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Caroline Malone Chaney, MSW ’16, Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate

Using animals and nature to help children heal from trauma

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Caroline Chaney

As an animal-assisted child and family therapist at Mount Saint Vincent in Denver, Caroline Malone Chaney works with a partner: a therapy dog named Daisie, whom Chaney adopted and trained while a student in the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) Animal-Assisted Social Work certificate program.

Mount Saint Vincent provides residential and nonresidential treatment and support for children who experience physical or sexual abuse, chronic neglect and mental illness. The program’s neurosequential model of therapeutics approach focuses on the neurobiology of the brain and how trauma affects brain development. Assessments involve measuring the development of 32 separate areas of the brain and collecting a comprehensive developmental history of the child and family, Chaney explains.

The trauma-informed treatment model incorporates experiential therapies — such as dance/movement, art, music, massage, play, animal-assisted, nature-based — to provide developmentally appropriate interventions that address individual needs. Chaney uses animal-assisted, gardening and nature-based Greencare therapies with children ages 5–14 who suffer from mental illness and trauma. “These interventions provide the children with a calming, therapeutic environment that creates a sense of safety, support and space for the creative and emotional expression they need to form healthy, trusting relationships,” says Chaney, who works with Daisie three days a week and directs Mount Saint Vincent’s animal-assisted therapy program.

“It has been truly amazing to see the bonds Daisie has formed with children and staff,” Chaney says. “Animals and nature provide a type of natural restoration and intrinsic connection to living beings that supports psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.”

At GSSW, Chaney says, “I obtained the clinical social work skills needed to help children and families who are facing poverty, mental illness and trauma. I have also incorporated my education about the human-animal-environment connection to create Greencare programs that provide animal-assisted and nature-based interventions to children.”

At Mount Saint Vincent, for example, Daisie helps Chaney to more easily form trusting relationships with children who form insecure attachments and unhealthy relational barriers as a result of physical or sexual abuse. Daisie also encourages children to attend meetings, transition to school in the mornings, complete school work and participate in therapy sessions. “She teaches the children empathy, healthy boundaries, emotional regulation and safety skills,” Chaney adds. “And she brings lots of smiles and laughter with her fun-loving and energetic personality.”

“GSSW faculty members provide students with the networking and connections needed to pursue careers and make a difference in our communities and the world,” Chaney says. “I was able to pursue my passion in animal-assisted social work, which then led me to intern at Mount Saint Vincent and adopt my co-therapist and companion Daisie. I am now working in the career I always dreamed of!”
 

“GSSW faculty members provide students with the networking and connections needed to pursue careers and make a difference in our communities and the world. I was able to pursue my passion in animal-assisted social work, which then led me to obtain an internship at Mount Saint Vincent and adopt my co-therapist and companion Daisie. I am now working in the career I always dreamed of!” — Caroline Malone Chaney, MSW ’16, Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate ’16, Child and Family Therapist/Animal-Assisted Therapist, Mount Saint Vincent