The therapeutic power of nature and animal connection

The therapeutic power of nature and animal connection

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Date and time


Online & Melbourne Campus

Level 9/123 Lonsdale Street

Webinar Zoom

Melbourne, VIC 3000


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This fun, informative 90-minute session will be presented by Magic, STREAT’s Therapy-Assist Dog, assisted by Dr Kate Barrelle

About this event

Most of us intuitively understand the benefits of being in nature and connecting with other species in a physical or emotional way. That sense of awe, invigoration, and calm that can come with feeling connected with a bigger system of nature is real. And there are powerful implications for our individual, social and collective system level ways of being in the world. This presentation will give an overview of the research and evidence that sits behind these sometimes profound everyday experiences, and provoke reflection about how we choose to design spaces, services and programs with this in mind. Humans and animals are a subset of nature and have one of the longest and mutually beneficial inter-species relationships. We will explore the many ways animals can be used to enhance or create therapeutic environments, focussing on dogs in particular. Examples will be given of Magic’s role at STREAT and her training for this kind of work. Magic is keen to have a free pat session afterwards.

Key focus areas –

• What we know about the benefits of nature connection for humans

• The science behind the therapeutic effects of animal-human interactions

• The many ways animals can be used to enhance or create therapeutic environments

• Magic’s role at STREAT and what is involved in training a dog for this kind of work

• Free pats with Magic afterwards

Magic is a kelpie/labrador Therapy Assist Dog who has been in this role at STREAT for almost 5 years now, her official title being ‘Branch Manager’. STREAT is a Melbourne-based social enterprise that provides holistic, tailored support and vocational training in hospitality and horticulture to young people with multiple barriers to work. STREAT has worked intensively with over 600 youth to date and Magic attends individual and group sessions with the trainees. Magic has the softest ears, and the deepest darkest brown eyes that transmit calmness and acceptance. She is generally found leaning gently into an anxious trainee, or resting her head on the lap of someone who is struggling with big feelings. If needed, she can fetch any balls, sticks or scrunched paper. She has completed Advanced Training and is (mostly) well-behaved when on duty. She is the highest rating element of STREAT’s youth programs, with an average rating of 106%, demonstrating that they need to spend more time with their trainees on maths! Some things that the trainees have said about Magic include:

A dog doesn’t judge you; Make you feel calmer and less stressed; You feel comforted and understood by a dog; They don’t say mean things or tease you; Teach empathy and kindness; Make you more ready to learn ; Makes it easier to concentrate; Makes everything more fun; Make you feel more confident; A good reward for trying hard; Makes something hurtful become less painful; Fills up your ‘bucket’ over and over and over; Magic is the highest rating element of STREAT

Dr Kate Barrelle is a clinical and forensic psychologist with 30 years of applied experience and a career that centres around people and their well-being. Kate has delivered over 500 training workshops and is passionate about translating research and knowledge into applied practice. Her current role involves the oversight of STREAT’s holistic and trauma-informed youth training programs as well as tracking STREAT’s M&E and impact. One of her favourite jobs is to be the handler of ‘Magic’, STREAT’s Therapy Dog. As Magic’s handler, Kate also accompanies Magic as a translator when Magic gives presentations.

When she is not assisting Magic, Kate is a forensic and clinical psychologist. Kate’s early career was in community mental health and private practice, working with adults and adolescents who had experienced many personal and clinical issues. She also worked with perpetrators and survivors of violent and sexual crimes, gang and cult members. She was a regular expert witness for both the Prosecution and Defence in criminal and civil cases. Kate then worked for several years in the (then) Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, providing behavioural science input to the Counter-Terrorism Branch.

Kate moved to Melbourne a decade ago with her wife Rebecca Scott to co-found STREAT. This Melbourne-based social enterprise provides holistic, tailored support and vocational training in hospitality and horticulture to young people with multiple barriers to work. STREAT has worked intensively with over 600 youth to date. RMIT modelling using Victorian Treasury data indicates that, as a self-funded social enterprise, STREAT has saved the government over $16 million in the last decade. STREAT also does sector and system level work, initiating the Moving Feast project in 202. Our capability building workshops are popular with the social sector and other organisations – on topics such as Trauma-Informed Practice, Gender & Sexual Diversity, Mental Health First Aid (accredited), Resilience and Self-care, Behavioural Design, Eco-innovation, System-level Social Innovation, etc.

In addition to STREAT, Kate completed an internationally award-winning PhD about walking away from violent extremism. Her research involved interviews with former radicals about disengagement from extremism and their subsequent societal reintegration. This work has resulted in a model of disengagement from violent extremism (Pro-Integration Model) that informs a holistic, strengths-based, structured approach to early intervention. Kate co-designed Australia’s national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) risk assessment, needs analysis and case management tools and regularly delivers training on this topic. The key to disengagement from a destructive trajectory is engagement elsewhere in a way that is meaningful to the young person. Kate was an expert witness at the Martin Place Coronial Inquiry and sits on various government and community advisory boards on this topic. Through STREAT, Kate continues to provide consultancy advice regarding the reintegration and rehabilitation of at-risk youth, including those radicalising towards violent extremism and informing prevention activities with the Pro-Integration Model.

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