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Therapy Dog Helps Clients During Sessions

July 9, 2020

A private counselor in Webb City aims to break down the stigma associated with men and mental health services by launching an empowering parenting group for divorced fathers and other single men who are raising children on their own.

Travis Bolin, a former teacher at Harry S. Truman Elementary and school counselor at Carthage Intermediate Center, opened up his own practice this year at Mount Hope Christian Counseling Center in Webb City. His practice is called Journey Toward Hope Counseling, which he said strives to encourage clients to find the bright side of life, no matter how dark it gets.

“I know that everyone we meet on this journey is fighting a battle, and along that journey, everyone has some hope along the way,” Bolin said. “That hope is what keeps them from giving up. In the end of the struggle or trauma that people go through, I know that there’s hope waiting for them. I always encourage my clients and instill hope in them because without hope, people give up. And without hope, people can’t get better or grow into the person they need to be.”

Men are less likely than women to seek help for depression, substance abuse and stressful life events due to social norms, downplaying symptoms and reluctance to talk, according to data from Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit that addresses the needs of those living with mental illness.

“I think our culture believes that dads are supposed to be the strong one in the family who show no emotion,” Bolin said. “The dad is supposed to be the one who always has that job to pay the bills and teaches his son how to play baseball. Sometimes when a dad goes through a divorce and the mom’s not in the picture, he feels like he has a missing piece, and it’s because he’s the one doing everything in the house.”

Bolin, a single father of a 10-year-old girl, was seeking support groups for single dads and was surprised to find there weren’t any offered in the region. That gave him the idea to start a counseling group for all single men — not just divorced fathers, but also grandfathers, uncles and other male guardians.

“I’ve run across some people in the Joplin area and have counseled single dads who have a tough time being a single dad or being divorced,” Bolin said. “I started researching in the Joplin area, and there aren’t any counseling groups for single dads. I kept running across single mom groups.”

The new group is called Rising From Divorce, which will be offered from 6 to 7 p.m. Mondays from July 20 through Aug. 10 at Mount Hope Christian Counseling Center, 2810 Mount Hope Road in Webb City. The group will cover topics such as successful parenting after divorce, how to enhance father/child relationships and how to set healthy guidelines. The cost is $120 for all four sessions, and scholarship opportunities are available.

“I want people in the Joplin area to know that just because you’re divorced or you’re a single dad, you can rise above that stigma and see hope,” he said. “I want them to see that there are other people in their neighborhood who are just like them. In this world, we’re not supposed to do life alone. We’re supposed to ask for help.”

Compact Information Systems, which provides direct marketing database services, compiled a list of how many single fathers live in the area and found an estimated 5,813 single men with children living in Joplin, Loma Linda and Webb City.

“Studies show that the most positive change happens when people are in a counseling group because they see they’re not alone and see there are other people like them,” Bolin said. “I want our dads to do a lot of talk time in this class where they share and talk about struggles they’re going through as a single dad. I want to be able to share as a single dad some tips that have helped me. I also want to share what works for other dads in the area.”

Full-time assistant

On March 13, Bolin adopted from the Joplin Humane Society a 6-year-old cockapoo named Journey who assists with clients during sessions as a therapy dog. Bolin said his clients love having Journey around because he is nonjudgmental and open to pets, cuddles and playing.

“He’s gentle when he needs to be gentle, and he’s hyper when he needs to be hyper. I noticed my clients love him. They pet him when they’re crying or hold him,” he said.

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