Cold noses, warm hearts: pets support the healing experience

A little girl on the inpatient child and adolescent unit at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital felt very alone and afraid. Despite many efforts, the staff was having great difficulty getting her to interact with anyone. Then she received an unexpected visit from Terry Heun and her dog, Imagine.

Immediately upon seeing the dog, the little girl’s eyes lit up as she moved towards the dog and began to pet him. Sensing Imagine’s quiet, welcoming and non-judgmental energy, the little girl’s confidence grew as she reached for the dog’s leash and began to silently mouth his name. All who were watching witnessed first hand the healing power of the bond between humans and animals. This happened on the very first pet therapy visit held at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.

Over 3 years ago, Aurora Psychiatric Hospital implemented animal assisted therapy in the inpatient treatment programs.

Through a partnership with Pets Helping People, a local organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with special needs by conducting volunteer pet facilitated therapy, pet-handler teams were identified to launch a pilot program.

The program was an instant hit. It didn’t take long for everyone to witness the healing power of a wet nose and wagging tail. Within just six short months, the program had grown from three teams visiting one program one day a week, to six teams visiting all inpatient programs, children and adults. The success of the program is attributed to each and every volunteer handler-pet team. Each team brings their own sense of self and flavor to the program. Some teams do tricks, some play ball, some sit on the floor quietly and just talk.

Patients share a variety of feelings with the volunteer pet handlers. They express their gratitude for helping them forget about their pain. The dogs also help them feel relaxed and accepted. Other patients who have or had dogs are reminded of special memories when they meet the therapy dogs. And the dogs often help kids of all ages come out of their shells and fill them with joy.

While the dogs are certified pet therapy animals, so much of their skills come naturally. The dogs are not taught how to react to the patients – they instinctively know. The dogs just sense the needs of each patient. They can be a bundle of energy or calm and relaxed depending on the person.

Find out more about our Child and Adolescent Treatment Program.

For more information about animal assisted therapy, visit these websites:

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs. If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

How do you find the best school for your child?

Are you actively seeking out the best school for your child? According to the Alliance for Effective Education, 1/3 of students – nearly 1.3 million each year – leave high school without a diploma. If your child is affected by behavioral health issues, the rate is even higher. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group.

Kradwell School is the only school in Wisconsin dedicated to serving students in grades 5 through 12 who, for whatever reason, are unsuccessful in the traditional school environment. Students coming to Kradwell may be diagnosed with a wide range of behavioral or psychological disorders, including learning disabilities such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, Asperger’s syndrome or reactive attachment disorder. Though unsuccessful in the traditional school setting, many Kradwell students are in fact gifted and talented, and thrive within Kradwell’s student-centric learning environment.

Classes are small, permitting students to work independently and in small groups. The student-to-teacher ratio is 5 to 1, instruction is individualized and self-paced. Curriculum meets Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction standards, and graduates meet all State of Wisconsin requirements for diploma.

Take a video tour of Kradwell School, meet our medical director, principal, caregivers and students, and learn what this facility can do for your child.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs. If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

How do you know when “student stress” turns suicidal?

College can be a stressful time, with busy schedules, deadlines, and new experiences.

The American College Health Association’s 2006 National College Health Assessment indicates that 94 percent of the college and university students surveyed reported that they felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do. Forty-four percent reported that they had felt so depressed it was difficult to function.

And, according to 2004 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people age 18 to 25.

Would you know the warning signs of suicide?

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.

If someone you know is showing the warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. InEastern Wisconsincontact Aurora Behavioral Health Services 1-877- 666-7223.

For more information about treatment for individuals experiencing anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide,  visit the Aurora Psychiatric Hospital website.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

What is patient-centered care at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital?

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to participate in some special activities at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. Caregivers from the inpatient hospital created a truly unique patient experience. A family-style lunch was served for caregivers, patients and their families, with comforting and familiar picnic foods like hamburgers and hot dogs.


You’d be surprised what a relaxing environment is created just by changing the lunch routine! Serving family style, and eating together really created a “home-like” feel. I saw parents, children, friends, brothers and sisters all eating together like Mom’s Sunday dinner. Later in the day, an ice cream social was offered in the Serenity Garden. Nothing reminds us of good old-fashioned, lazy-days-of-summer like ice cream and toppings. Acoustic guitar music was provided by Stuie & Friends while we enjoyed our sundaes.

It felt like a family day at the park. The peaceful garden setting and inspiring music provided a nurturing, healing patient experience I will remember. I feel lucky to have participated in these events, and thank our caregivers and patients for sharing this day with me.

Aurora Psychiatric Hospital offers an ideal setting for individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems. Located on a beautiful, 30-acre wooded campus in Wauwatosa, Aurora Psychiatric Hospital has been a leader in behavioral health care since 1884.  Visit our website to learn more about our services.

Learn more about the concept of patient-centered care from two of the industry’s most well-respected thought leaders:

If you or someone you know needs help with an emotional or mental wellness issue, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

Is back-to-school a season of anxiety for your child?

Is your child excited about starting back in the classroom? Or is your child scared, anxious or reluctant to attend school?

A new school year, unfamiliar classroom, new teachers, and new classmates can be sources of anxiety for children and parents. What level of anxiety is “normal”? Is anxiety disrupting routine activities for your child? Being fearful of getting on the school bus can be a sign of extreme anxiety. So can refusing to go out to recess, or participate in class activities.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America reports that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.

If you feel your child is experiencing extreme anxiety, find out how Aurora’s Child and Adolescent Day Treatment program can help.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

Who could have helped Amy Winehouse?

So the world has lost a great talent and artist, and many fans are wondering, could something more have been done?

Addiction is complex. It is a chronic, primary, and progressive disease with multiple causes that affect the social, physical, spiritual, cultural, and emotional components of an individual’s life. Sometimes it is further complicated with a dual diagnosis of depression, bi-polar disorder or other mental illness. And the treatment methods that work for one person, may not be effective for another.

Now, I don’t know a lot about Amy Winehouse’s situation, but I do know that there is no easy answer here. Many talented individuals have been lost too soon to addictions, and the only sure answer is to keep trying to raise awareness about the deadly affects of alcohol and drug addiction.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help battling an addiction, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.