Bridge Family Center Adds New Breed of Therapist

Andrew Halpern and Teddy. Courtesy photo

A newly-hired therapist at the Bridge’s Elmwood Counseling Center provides an additional dimension to his work.

By Ronni Newton

When Andrew Halpern was hired by the West Hartford-based Bridge Family Center as a therapist in the Elmwood Counseling Center, the organization got a bonus employee.

Teddy, a 5-year-old therapy dog, is Halpern’s assistant and provides an added dimension to his work with clients.

Andrew Halpern and Teddy. Courtesy photo

“Having Teddy engage with clients has had a number of benefits,” Halpern said. “If a child or adult is shy, unwilling to talk, or has trouble expressing their feelings, they are more comfortable talking as they pet and interact with Teddy. It helps them to stay present. Because Teddy brings a sense of gentleness to the environment, it helps to regulate their nervous system.”

Halpern has earned the “LPC” (licensed professional counselor) designation, and Teddy has also earned an important certification after passing the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. Halpern learned to be a handler through a local pet shop with the assistance of an American Kennel Club trainer, and while Teddy was in training Halpern regularly brought him along to work in his private practice as well as local health care facilities and behavioral health clinics.

Halpern said his grandmother, Terry, was a handler through Pet Partners and even volunteered with the organization with their therapy dog testing program, and by providing pet therapy as part of his practice he is happy to be continuing her legacy.

Involving Teddy as a team partner in therapy sessions can bring him closer to clients, Halpern said, and has changed the way he conducts and views therapy. Teddy also has an impact on how Halpern develops relationships with and creates treatment plans for clients, depending on how they interact with the dog.

Having Teddy engage with clients that have difficulty with boundaries – who may be expressive in inappropriate ways such as with loud, aggressive, and other “big” behaviors – is also very helpful, Halpern said. He works with clients to hone in the impact of their behavior by noting Teddy’s response.

He said he might ask: “How does Teddy react when you are aggressive? How do other people react when you are aggressive? What happens when you are gentle with Teddy? What types of boundaries do we have with Teddy? What types of boundaries should we have with our friends?”

According to the Bridge, the National Institute of Mental Health now recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a legitimate treatment for depression and other mood disorders. Therapy animals encourage feelings of wellbeing, reduce stress, and generally improve a person’s physical or emotional function.

Halpern’s biography notes that he “works with adolescents and adults through an eclectic and humanistic lens. He finds joy in seeing his clients become the best version of themselves.” The pet therapy, courtesy of his furry assistant, helps, too.

The Elmwood Counseling Center is located at 100 Shield Street in the Elmwood section of West Hartford. To schedule an appointment with Halpern, or one of the other counselors, call 860-313-1119. More information about the Bridge Family Center can be found on their website.

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