Cancer can be difficult for anyone to understand and to deal with, but even more so for children.
And unlike adults, children may not have the skills to talk about their feelings.
That is why Brant Meehan leads an animal therapy class at Animal Friends for children whose loved ones have cancer or whom may have cancer themselves. Mr. Meehan offers the class through the Cancer Caring Center.
Mr. Meehan is a therapist who specializes in using art with his practice. With the program at Animal Friends, Mr. Meehan combines utilizing art therapy and therapy dogs to reach the children and assist them in handling difficult times.
"The dogs are great because they like you no matter what and they don't tell your secrets," he said, "And the art is a great way to express yourself without necessarily using words."
Mr. Meehan, who grew up in Ellwood City, originally went to college to be an art teacher, but after a couple of years decided he wanted to move to New York City on a sense of adventure. There, he started and operated a cleaning service and a party planning business and served as an art consultant.
After using art therapy himself, he realized that he wanted to use his love of art to help others.
"So I came back to the Pittsburgh area to finish my education," he said. As a student, he had an internship at Western Psychiatric Hospital. He also had a field placement in 2007-08 at the Cancer Caring Center, where he assisted with counseling and social services for the center's clients.
"My strength is really in art therapy, so I helped with anything artistic. And I found that I really loved the children's programming," he said.
This will be the second round of therapy sessions that Mr. Meehan has offered through the partnership with Animal Friends and the Cancer Caring Center.
Stephanie Samolovitch, director of support services at the Cancer Caring Center, said, "Pet therapy is Brant's true specialty. His creativity and caring personality really fit the mold of what we've been looking for in a facilitator."
"I can combine my therapy skills with art skills to help the children. I love it," Mr. Meehan said.
The sessions actually start before the children and Mr. Meehan meet with the dogs.
"I call the family and see what the children's needs are and what issues the families may be dealing with so that I can prepare exercises before the sessions," he said.
The center appreciates Mr. Meehan for his attention to detail, Ms. Samolovitch said.
"He really takes the time to develop the program so that it is custom to the child's needs," she said.
After introductory exercises, the children interact with the therapy dogs and participate in directed art sessions with Mr. Meehan. He also provides them with at-home projects.
"This allows the families to keep the lines of communications open," he said.
Ms. Samolovitch said of the program, "Research shows that an animal provides comfort, relaxation and an opportunity for an individual to cope with life situations. So not only are we fortunate to offer this type of therapy for children, but having Brant's expertise and empathy for these families is truly what makes it unique and so special."
Mr. Meehan also has an arts business that he started in 1986 called "Unlimited Possibilities."
"I started with hand-painted clothing and expanded it to murals and custom-made art," he said.
In addition to his work with the Cancer Caring Center, Mr. Meehan also has a private arts therapy practice, Artful Healing, that specializes in art therapy retreats along with counseling services.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org