A Professional Transformational Journey in the Practice of Animal Assisted Interventions
Molly DePrekel is a psychologist in private practice both at the Midwest Center for Trauma and Emotional Healing and Hold Your Horses. She provides therapy and offers consultation for other professionals in animal assisted interventions (AAI). She holds certifications in sensorimotor psychotherapy, EMDR and yoga. She is also a committee member of the Horses and Humans Research Foundation and faculty' at the University of Denver’s Institute for Human Animal Connection.
During my undergraduate years, I worked at the Michigan State University horse barns and during the summers, worked at a camp for inner city girls from Detroit. It was my work with these young girls that showed me they' had little or no connection with animals and nature. The change in these girls after experiencing animals and nature informed my decision to work at helping people to connect more deeply' with themselves through animals and nature. In 1985, while searching the student services books for internships, I found a flyer for a place called Green Chimneys school in New York state. I applied and was accepted as a farm intern. I lived on-site working with residents with severe mental health issues as well as helping with AAI. I have been proud to watch Green Chimneys grow and change into the center it is today.
Post-graduation, I wanted to find a position that included some form of animal assisted therapy; I moved to Minnesota (MN) for work and study at the Center to Study Human-Animal Relationships and the Environment (CENSHARE). My challenge was deciding where I fit in. Was I an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or mental health provider? I chose mental health, completing my graduate work at St. Mary’s University, earning a master’s in counseling and psychological services.
In my work I hold many roles, all revolving around animal-based therapy' work. I have been a therapist in private practice for 29 years in animal assisted therapy and nature-based healing. I was the Clinical Director of a non-profit that specialized in animal assisted therapy and education for
A Professional Transformational Journey 145 professionals. After a ten-year tenure there I established my own practice doing similar work, specializing in trauma healing. Recently I have added consultation services for therapists who want to embark on AAI with their clients.
My therapy dogs are an integral part of my individual therapy with clients in my office setting. For my equine practice, I work with an organization called Hold Your Horses and 1 provide therapy with the help of horses for adolescents and adults. Within my private practice, I see some clients in my office and others at the barn or in the horse-riding arena. At my private practice office, I include my dogs—whether walking or playing, as well as incorporating other forms of nature-based healing. At the equine barn, I see individual clients and facilitate groups with sexually exploited youth. I currently work with dogs and horses. Currently, I am on the faculty at the University of Denver, School of Social Work, Institute for Human-Animal Interactions and enjoy teaching others.
This work requires an ability to be not only a counselor but animal behaviorist. I highly recommend, especially in sessions that include equines, having other animal handlers to assist. These sentient beings both add to and require more in counseling sessions for which a practitioner must be aware. The animals I work with require a high level of care and responsibility, but the rewards far outstrip the demands. I do not have a traditional 9—5 job. In private practice, I often work later than 5. Due to the population I work with, my groups happen later in the day due to school hours. I may assist on weekends at the barn, conduct workshops for others, or attend trainings around animal interactions. As a college instructor, teaching online, AAI requires weekend and evening work.
I believe there are growth opportunities in the field of AAI as more agencies acknowledge the benefits animals bring. The most important core competencies include mastery as a therapist without the presence of an animal. AAI are an added competency to an established practice of work. It is important to understand and have knowledge of the species with which you will work. This includes knowing animal body language, calming signals and stress responses. This requires more than completing a weekend workshop and should be an area of on-going study for the practitioner. It is important to know how your animal plays and lets off steam. The education to add includes animal behavior, animal handling skills, job shadowing and/or internships that are well established in the work you want to pursue.
I have been challenged and rewarded in my search for mentors. These teachers have now challenged me to train and mentor others. In response to this challenge I started a consultation business with a colleague and fellow instructor at the University of Denver, Alison Leslie LCSW. We offer individual and group consultation in AAI and nature-based healing for others doing this work. Consultation can be done in person, online and in groups.
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This work has given me an amazing life journey. I have knocked on many doors, often many times. I tell others to keep searching, screen your teachers and mentors carefully, learn from many people and enjoy learning from animals. Ask questions: discern and critically think about the answers you get. Play along the way, laugh with the animal teachers and when you feel discouraged take a walk in nature, be with the animals and then start again on your journey.