From Intern to Mentor: The Journey of an HAI Professional

September 20, 2022

Molly DePrekel, MA, LP

In the mid-eighties, Molly DePrekel was an animal science major at Michigan State University. During her college days, she also worked at a camp in Detroit that introduced inner city youth to the great outdoors. Molly saw firsthand how beneficial connections to nature could be for humans. It was an observation that influenced her studies and ultimately her career. At the time, the most common internships in her field meant either working on a breeding farm or in a show barn.  Molly was looking for something else. Molly wanted to expand on her studies while also exploring the therapeutic and educational gains humans can have when engaged with animals and nature.

In a one-page flyer on animal-assisted interactions, Molly discovered a short list of opportunities more aligned with her interests. A university program that brought students and dogs to visit patients in local hospitals. An internship placement at a small residential school on a farm in Brewster, New York.

Molly (left) at Green Chimneys, 1985.

Molly called that school—Green Chimneys—and coordinated a visit with her academic advisor. Green Chimneys Founder Sam “Rollo” Ross introduced himself and told Molly how “grand” the internship would be. The visit sealed her intentions and in 1985, Molly spent six months as an intern living and working on campus. She helped care for the animals and connected with students. From fixing fences to helping a mischievous horse named Cream Puff find his way back to the horse barn, rich memories of staff, students, and animals were etched in her mind. Most of all, Molly facilitated programs that brought children and animals together. As a result, she finished the internship assured that she wanted to pursue animal-assisted interventions as a career.

“Green Chimneys…I feel like it was my trampoline,” recalls Molly.

Establishing relationships in the HAI community

Attending and presenting at her first Pet Partners Conference a few years later, Rollo assisted Molly with introductions and boasted, “She’s one of mine.” Soon Molly was connecting with leaders in the field who also offered great encouragement and mentorship. Dr. Leo Bustad, one of the founders of Pet Partners, provided some guidance as did Dr. RK Anderson DVM who taught animal-assisted intervention courses at the University of Minnesota. Michael Kaufmann, then at the American Humane Association and now at Green Chimneys, and Dr. Maureen McNamara who was then the vice president of Pet Partners, proved that the HAI world was big yet small and always supportive. Molly presented papers and worked on committees with the likes of Dr. Suz Brooks and Barbara Rector.

Career based in HAI and nurtured by continual learning

Molly is ever curious. After graduating from Michigan State University with a BS in Animal Husbandry, Molly went on to complete a MA in counseling and psychological services from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. To this day, she continues to explore certifications and therapies that enhance her work as a psychologist in private practice. Molly holds certificates in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy for the treatment of trauma and developmental wounds. Molly leads individual and group therapy that incorporates animals at two Minnesota-based practices, the Midwest Center for Trauma and Emotional Healing and Hold Your Horses. She has co-authored several manuals on animal-assisted therapy. She is on the faculty of the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work and Institute for Human Animal Connection.

I see Molly as one of the most influential people in HAI today—she understands both theory and practice, with horses, with farm animals,” describes Green Chimneys Farm Education Manager Miyako Kinoshita. “It is hard to find a person who is so versatile.”

Keeping connected and advancing AAT

Molly remains actively engaged in professional associations and leads training on best practices and credentialing of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in mental health services. Passionate about how animal-assisted interventions (AAI) can help specific groups and traumas, Molly’s encouraged by trauma work carried out with a wide range of populations, from youth to incarcerated individuals, and victims of sex trafficking. She offers authentic restoration utilizing AAI and nature-based healing to professionals and health care workers county social workers and probation officers, and even fellow mental health or social service professionals. And Molly remains connected to the people and places that have served her, too.

“Green Chimneys was always there holding the door open,” explains Molly. “When I do visit, it’s like I just landed. I’m settling into home.”

Molly DePrekel (top row, second from left) with fellow former Green Chimneys interns at the HAI Conference in 2017.

Caring for self & accepting the reigns

Working in the mental health field for over 30 years, Molly is intentional about staying well, in mind and body. Remaining grounded, Molly credits daily walks with her dogs, being outdoors and among old oak trees, and taking refuge in her personal landing places as a few of her key practices.

The accumulation of years and experience is bringing another truth to light. The time is now to help others establish their careers in the field. “Barbara Rector told me not too long ago, ‘Enough—you’re the mentor now.’ Barbara passed on the reigns—or should I say leash,” teases Molly. “The field of HAI has expanded. I am a little bit older now. A little enlightened and very thrilled to help others.”

“Molly is that rare therapist who is equally versed in excellent clinical work and also very skilled at integrating animals into psychotherapy. She has worked with dogs, horses, chickens, sheep, and other species and is a strong proponent of Green Care and farm-based education for various client groups,” explains Michael Kaufmann, Director of  The Sam and Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys. “Molly has been an advocate of trauma-informed practice long before it became a field-wide mantra. Above all, she is a very grounded person, no-nonsense and despite all of her accomplishments and extensive writings, she has remained humble and real. She began as an intern at Green Chimneys, and continues to pay it forward as a mentor, teacher, and guide to countless emerging professionals in the growing field of HAI.”

Molly offers consultation and training in Animal-Assisted Interactions and Therapy both in person and online. She can be contacted via [email protected]

Today, the Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Global Internship Program at Green Chimneys nurtures the careers of those establishing themselves in the field of HAI. Discover new skills and investigate a unique professional direction through a truly rewarding experience at one of the most innovative facilites for the education and treatment of children with special needs. More