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Responding and Managing Crisis: Meet. Dr. Jean Marie Thompson

Dr. Jean Marie ThompsonDr. Jean Marie Thompson

Dr. Jean Marie Thompson works for the State of Indiana as the K-9 Assisted Crisis Response Team’s leader. She was a pioneer in recognizing dogs as an asset for disaster mental health cases and has witnessed first-hand the comfort animals can bring trauma victims.

HABRI Central had a chance to catch up with Dr. Thompson and she was kind enough to answer our questions about her work and the impact the human-animal bond has in that work.

Dr. Thompson is not a stranger to crisis response and has extensive training and credentials from various crisis response groups. She works in providing support to first responders and survivors in local and national disasters with a specialization in trauma recovery. She graduated as a dog trainer from the Animal Behavior College with honors, apprenticed under Kevin Behan, holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and a J.D from Georgetown University Law Center.

Kevin BehanKevin Behan

Mr. Behan is a nationally recognized dog trainer and is also a member of the State of Indiana’s K-9 Assisted Response Team. He developed Natural Dog Training (NDT), has written two books on the subject, and owns his own training facility in Vermont. All dogs that work for Dr. Thompson’s team are trained with Behan’s NDT. The philosophy behind that training emphasizes the emotional capacity of dogs and encourages an understanding of a dog’s bodily awareness and communicative abilities, as well as acknowledging their cognitive skills.

Psychological Influences

Dr. Thomspon’s psychology background influenced her approach in understanding human-animal interactions. She is a psychoanalytically-oriented self psychologist (Kohutian-based) and is aware of the impact of the human-animal bond. As an example, she explained how dogs are able to serve as “mirroring and twinship self-objects” for people. In other words, that term explains how dogs are capable of providing a sense of sameness towards humans and responding in a soothing manner towards the people they are interacting with.

In her experience of working with trauma patients she has noticed that some “aspects of their experience could not be addressed verbally.” Rather, trauma rehabilitation exists on a non-verbal level. Dogs, then, can become a therapeutic option because they are capable of non-verbal comfort and communicate with humans solely with their bodies. Humans under trauma are able to recognize and respond to the dog’s non-verbal communication.

Utilizing the Human-Animal Bond

Dr. Thompson and the dog she grew up with, DukeDr. Thompson and the dog she grew up with, Duke

Dr. Thompson’s interest in animals started at an early age where she grew up on a dairy farm in northern Indiana. On the farm, dogs especially, were treated as “beloved working companions” who provided comfort and support to Dr. Thompson as a young girl.

She became involved with human-animal bond work in 2008 when she took over leadership of the Indiana District 2 Disaster Mental Health Team. As she recalls, she was looking for a way to “invigorate” her team. She found her answer while training and working with the National Animal Assisted Crisis Response (NAACR). She saw how valuable dogs were in crisis situations and observed their effectiveness among college students after events of school violence. She returned to Indiana and added modifications to the standing emergency management protocol.

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Dr. Thompson’s K-9 Assisted Crisis Response Team is part of the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction-Disaster Management Program. Their members and dogs come from all over the state and they receive extensive training for both the dog and handler over the course of a year. Training includes K-9 first aid, fitness, safety, situational awareness, stress management, personal security, disaster mental health methods, standard operating procedures, and incident management. The team is always prepared for deployment by any State level or disaster relief organization.

A common misconception associated with Dr. Thompson’s team is that they are related to Search and Rescue dogs or Service Dogs. She explained how although her team responds to crisis their dogs do not participate in searches for missing people or assist individuals under disability. Rather they are a team situated under incident management and are there to assist in the rehabilitation of survivors and first responders in crisis.

Seeing Dogs Work

Dr. Thompson shared how the most surprising aspect of her work has been in watching the dogs’ interactions. She discussed how they express an amazing sensitivity by explaining how “dogs have an uncanny ability to quickly navigate through a group of people and focus on the persons really in need of tender attention.” The most rewarding aspect of her work is seeing how these dogs are capable of renewing hope in people who have just gone through significant trauma.

When asked about the biggest issues facing her discipline now, Dr. Thompson discussed several different topics. Self-deployments from groups nationwide in the last couple of years have brought media attention to the work of the human-animal bond, which has been great, but Dr. Thompson worries how some groups overtake local groups familiar with the area which, in the future, could undermine the credibility and acceptance of crisis response teams.

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Funding was another obstacle she discussed and a challenge many human-animal groups face. Volunteers must support themselves in terms of buying equipment, training, traveling, and lodging. Furthermore, Dr. Thompson elaborated on the logistic challenges of figuring out how to provide transportation and lodging for a group of handlers and their dogs. She explained that while most places allow trained dogs to stay, it does take advanced preparation and communication to get all the details worked out.

What she’s working on now

Dr. Thompson is encouraged in the steady rise of research pertaining to the human-animal bond, but maintains that more work is still needed. She hopes to see more studies take place that examine the effectiveness of animal assisted crisis responses, as well as how therapy animals themselves experience and respond to stress. Specifically relating to her team, she hopes to see research that looks at Natural Dog Training’s comparative effectiveness in engaging with people experiencing trauma. Her team would be open to both designing and participating in a study that pursued that line of research.

In the future, Dr. Thompson’s team is hoping to expand their reach and respond to crisis on a national level, as well as make an effort to reach out to returning Indiana National Guard members and their families. They’re currently considering adding a program that would train service dogs to work with veterans suffering from PTSD. The team also is lobbying for therapy dog rights in animal assisted interventions in Indiana, similar to what is currently practiced in Kansas.

If interested in learning more about Dr. Thompson’s work she can be contacted at jeanmarie_thompson2000@yahoo.com

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