Mental Health America to hold annual meeting

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mental Health America of Putnam County will be hosting its annual meeting on Tuesday, April 30 at the Lifebuilder Community Center at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting will honor "Heroes in the Fight" along with the presentation of Annual Person of the Year and Educator of the Year Awards.

Following the presentation of the awards, there will be an education series program, "Cats and dogs and horses, oh my! Therapy Outside Box." Christine Wilkey, the associate professor of Human Services at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, will present the program.

Wilkey, a Putnam County resident, completed her Masters of Social Work degree at Indiana University in 1993. In her social work career she worked in a variety of programs to end family violence in Indianapolis as well as Putnam County.

She has also been involved in multi-media community education campaigns and has provided training and education to a wide range of audiences.

Wilkey currently teaches undergraduate human services, sociology, women's students as well as grant-writing in the Master of Leadership Development program.

Currently, Wilkey is engaged in the study of Equine Assisted Mental Health through a Post-Master's certificate program at Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz. She plans on using this in the new Equine Assisted Therapy minor offered by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

During the presentation, "Cats and dogs and horses, oh my! Therapy Outside Box," Wilkey will speak on animal-assisted therapy as a form of mental health counseling, which a person interacts with an animal under the guidance of their counselor to address behavioral and emotional issues.

"While any domesticated species can be a potential therapy partner, dogs and horses are most often involved. Cats and small 'pocket pets' such as mice or gerbils also offer many possibilities for helping people," Wilkey said. "Animal-assisted therapy is rapidly growing and being applied in many ways."

Recently, the community of Newtown was offered equine-assisted counseling to help them with grief and loss. According to Wilkey, military veterans, children with autism spectrum disorder, people dealing with substance abuse, and survivors of family violence and other trauma are among those finding help with the assistance of an animal in therapy.

"In therapeutic experiences with animals, people can learn very quickly about themselves, their feelings and their behavior. They can explore new ways of relating by interacting with the animal, and use those discoveries to have better relationships with their families and other people in their lives," explained Wilkey. "For some, is it easier to become engaged in counseling if an animal is involved. People can unlock their emotions in the presence of a four-legged friend."

Children are among those who are naturally drawn to animals, thus making animal-assisted therapy a great way to help young people.

It is the hope of Wilkey that this program will spread the word of what she is currently learning and to show people how animals can truly help people with a wide variety of concerns.

"This field is growing as animal-assisted therapy becomes more widely available. It can be used in a multitude of ways," explained Wilkey. "We all know someone who could benefit from counseling that includes an animal, large or small, as our partner in seeking human mental health and wellness."

Also on hand during the presentation will be veterinarians Dr. John Helmers and Dr. Jason Huff.

Lifebuilder Community Center is located at 703 E. Washington St. in Greencastle.

For more information contact Mental Health American of Putnam County at 653-3310.

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