Kid Counseling Montana uses animal-assisted play therapy to help kids

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Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-08 16:43:06-04

BILLINGS — Karen Boe isn’t the only therapist at Kid Counseling Montana in Billings. She and her dog Theo make the only certified animal-assisted play therapy team in the state, and one out of 41 across the world.

It’s a unique approach that’s making a big impact in the lives of the kids she sees.

Nine-year-old Taylor Asbell has been seeing Boe for about a year.

“I get to, like, make stuff with her like slime. Or I get to play with Theo or go to the park,” said Asbell on Friday.

Young children don’t have the cognitive ability to explain how they’re feeling, which is where play therapy comes in.

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“The idea is that the items or the toys are their words. And so, you create a space for that with all the things around here that you see, and you just let them play out the process,” Boe said.

Boe said play therapy isn’t new but what she offers with Theo is something that’s niche to the state.

“A lot of the little guys that I have that have lots and lots of trauma and really difficult time developing relationships, often times can develop a relationship with him versus with other people. And it really does help reduce their behaviors and helps them in school,” said Boe.

Boe and Theo helped Asbell with her own trauma after a school bus tipped over in Lockwood last winter.

“She was on the bus when it happened. The bus slid off, and thankfully nobody was hurt, but the bus tipped over, and so she had some real strong anxieties about getting back on a school bus,” said Taylor’s mom, Sue.

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With Theo’s help, Boe used play therapy to help Asbell get past her fears of entering a vehicle.

“He like wants me to pet him and I petted him. It kind of helps her calm down,” said Asbell and her mom.

“Karen explained it in a way that I can understand it so she could help me get through that,” Asbell said.

It’s something Boe wouldn’t have any other way.

“I get to come and play every day with my dog. It’s great and we help people,” said Boe.