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By Lori Powell, LCSW – Aug. 27, 2019

When I first began working as a Youth First Social Worker at an elementary school in 2017, I noticed the children enjoyed being welcomed by a stuffed animal cat in the mornings to promote a great start to their day. I have always kept various stuffed animals in my office to encourage kids and families to feel more comfortable talking to me.  

Over the years, I have purchased stuffed animals that resemble wild and domestic cats. However, the favorite cat of the majority of the children and adults at school is a big stuffed tiger.

At times I have even been asked by students if I would allow the stuffed animal tiger to visit their classroom for the entire day.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho:  “Animals, (real or toys) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.” 

My real pet cat Jazzy and I became registered as an animal-assisted therapy team through Pet Partners in 2018.  According to Pet Partners, there are only 180 registered cat-assisted therapy teams in the US. 

My thoughts were that Jazzy could possibly reduce anxiety and anger issues that some of the students were experiencing at the time.  First, I contacted the parents of the children that I felt would benefit from this form of intervention and gained their approval to use this technique. 

I was able to bring Jazzy to school on two occasions. The students whose parents approved the animal-assisted therapy were really excited about visiting with Jazzy and were able to discuss some difficult experiences that they had incurred throughout their lives.  

One of the rules of being a registered assisted therapy team through Pet Partners is that the animal has to be bathed prior to each visit. By making sure that the animal has been cleaned, the allergens could be reduced and not cause severe allergic reactions to the animal’s presence. Unfortunately, however, the decision was made to no longer allow Jazzy in the school setting due to individual allergy issues.

Currently, Jazzy and I attend the Paws and Tales program at Red Bank Library in Evansville every other Thursday from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm. This program allows children to read books to Jazzy.

The families and the staff at Red Bank Library enjoy visiting with Jazzy. The children who attend the program are motivated to read a book as a way to spend time with Jazzy, who also enjoys being brushed, petted, and given treats.

Even though there are many different people who visit with Jazzy on a regular basis, she has been able to completely bond with three individuals since the Paws and Tales program was started. Jazzy shows this high comfort level by purring very loudly for these individuals.

Jazzy loves to listen to children and adults read to her during the Paws and Tales Program. She is always willing to listen regardless of the individual’s reading ability!

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 25, 2018 –

Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to meet people who have experienced multiple traumatic challenges in their lives. Some have been able to successfully work through their complicated issues, but others seem to have more difficulty managing their thoughts and emotions related to any change or significant event.

The difference is that some people have not fully developed their ability to be resilient. According to the American Psychological Association, the ability to be resilient is actually ordinary, not extraordinary.

The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines resiliency as “the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune.”

The American Psychological Association reports that research shows people who exhibit resiliency have developed supportive and caring relationships with friends and family, make plans they are able to complete, are confident in their strengths and abilities, manage their intense emotions and reactions to extreme events, communicate effectively, and work toward solving their problems appropriately.

The American Psychological Association also identifies 10 techniques that can enhance one’s ability to become more resilient:

1. Develop truly trusting, caring, and supportive relationships with friends, co-workers and family members. These relationships can be developed by spending more time with the significant people in your life.
2. Identify small positive changes in emotional distress. For example, acknowledge “I feel happier today than I felt yesterday.” Journaling can help identify changes in emotional state on a day-to-day basis.
3. Change is a continuous process throughout our lives. A person might not be able to change a situation but can work toward solving smaller problems related to the situation.
4. Set smaller attainable goals to identify each success. An example might be, “I woke up this morning and ate my breakfast.” In some cases these are definitely achievements that can be celebrated.
5. Admit that the problem exists and work toward fixing the issue. When a person denies that he or she has experienced a difficult situation they are avoiding healing, which makes it more difficult to recover.
6. Identify self-growth by acknowledging successes and the goals that have been achieved. When an individual solves one problem they might feel more confident to solve others.
7. Realize that you are able to resolve problematic situations. This realization is created when each additional problem is solved.
8. Do not exaggerate problems associated with the incident. When a person views the problem realistically they are able to handle it more effectively.
9. Stay positive by focusing on a better and brighter future.
10.Identify your emotions and your needs, which includes being able to relax and participate in activities that are enjoyable, such as spending time with family and friends.

Please remember that everyone is able to develop their ability to become more resilient. With determination, confidence, support, and encouragement, any issue can be managed and resolved effectively.

By Lori Powell, LCSW, Courier & Press, September 26, 2017 –

I have always loved animals, especially cats.  Throughout my professional life I have noticed that sharing photos of my cats and keeping small stuffed animals in my office has helped initiate and continue conversations with children and adults, helping me build trusting relationships.

As a result, when I began my employment at Vogel Elementary School as a Youth First Social Worker, I began to carry a stuffed animal with me to help children transition into school in the mornings.  If I’m not at the door when children enter the area, some will ask, “Where is the lady with the cat?”

Some children smile and ask to pet the stuffed animal I’m carrying with me, which is usually a cat of various colors.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow, of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho: “Animals, (real or toys,) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.”

According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children.  Rose Barlow also states that animals can help reduce anxiety, stress, and sadness that adults or children might be experiencing.  There are many people that need help meeting their emotional needs to feel safe, loved, and appreciated.

I’ve listed five essential needs that pets can provide to adults and children:

  • A constant companionship can be formed that teaches the individual how to provide unconditional love and affection appropriately.
  • A structured schedule for waking up in the mornings, bedtimes, and meal times can be developed.
  • A positive coping skill can be developed, because it is very difficult to play with a dog or cat without smiling or laughing.
  • Self-esteem can be increased by allowing the child to feel comfortable in building friendships.
  • Physical comfort can be obtained by touching, holding, and petting your animal.

When choosing a pet, please make sure they are friendly and want the extra attention a child will give.  Otherwise, the essential needs of the individual and the pet will not be met. Also, it’s important to be thoughtful about the care and responsibility that any animal requires, including obtaining appropriate vaccinations for all pets in the home.

If you are unable to afford care for the animal and must return it to the original owner, this could create additional trauma for children and adults who have become attached to their new pet.  But don’t give up on the possibility of animal-assisted therapy.  There is always the option to use toy stuffed animals or visit the animals at the zoo to help children and adults reduce or alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness.