The Team

Kate and Muffin
Kate and Muffin

Kate Nicoll, MSW, LCSW Kate brings to Soul Friends more than 20 years of clinical experience working with families coping with grief, trauma and illness. Kate earned her MSW from Smith College and her BSW from Elms College; as well, she completed a graduate certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy and Education from DePaul University. Kate’s extensive mental health experience includes work with inpatient medical and psychiatric hospitals, children’s clinic, private practice, homecare agencies and hospice. She has presented across the country on the power of body-centered psychotherapy and animal assisted interventions for children. She has specialized in working with children with severe trauma and grief – and has partnered with community agencies and the state in adding the comfort of an animal partner to specific treatment plans.

Kate and Bear

Kate and Bear

Over the past five years, Kate has created five group curriculum based programs for children that has consistently demonstrated through outcome measures and research positive benefits for children including : increased eye contact for children with autism and ADHD; increased hopefulness for children living with trauma and improved peer relationships for teens. As the principal investigator of a year long humane education study, Kate and her partners demonstrated the benefits of adding therapy animals in a classroom setting in a published journal article in Society and Animals.  Kate is the author of Soul Friends: Finding Healing with Animals and A Therapy Dog at Work and Play; Teaching Children about Body Clues. Along with her four children, Kate shares her love with seven animal companions at home including three Delta registered therapy dogs. Kate is a member of the Delta Society, EAGALA, NASW, the International Society for Group Psychotherapy and NAHRA.  In the year 2008-2009, she was selected to be a Annie E. Casey Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Foundation to assist in her vision to bring Soul Friends, Inc to all the children in need of Connecticut.   Contact at


    Megan Giesen, MSW, LCSW -   Clinical Program   Director
           Megan brings to Soul Friends a strong commitment to meeting the mental health needs of  children in clinical programming that is both creative and goal-directed.  She has specialized training in both body-centered therapy  and trauma focused cogntive behavioral therapy particularly as it effects children living with trauma.  Megan is also committed to culturally sensitive practice, and is bilingual in Spanish.  Having recently adopted a bonded pair of kittens.  Megan is enjoying observing their play and activity level.  Megan is also a Delta Society registered therapy dog team, with Muffin.
          Kate Walz Cygler, MSW, LCSW -   Clinician, Group Therapy Program Manager
          Kate joined the Soul Friends team in June 2009.  She graduated with her MSW from Southern
Connecticut State University in May, 2006 after completing a master’s research project which explored the role of animal-assisted interventions in the treatment of children  with developmental delays.  She then spent the next three years at a residential treatment program working with traumatized children and adolescents, and received additional training in Trauma- Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).  Assisting Kate in the provision of individual, group and family therapy in the Soul Friends office and other satellite sites, is her canine partner, Murphy.  Murphy is a four-year old Goldendoodle who is a registered Delta Society Pet Partner and an AKC Canine Good Citizen.

Jodi Teitelbaum, MSW     Come, Follow Me! Program Coordinator

Jodi first came to Soul Friends has a student intern.  She graduated from UCONN in 2007.  Currently, she is the coordinator of therapeutic mentoring at Community Residences, Inc. in Southington.  She works part-time at Soul Friends, particularly assisting with our Come, Follow Me! program for special needs children.

Vanessa Pera, MSW, LCSW – Behavioral Consultant

Vanessa graduated from SCSU in Spring 2006.  She was also a student intern at Soul Friends.  Vanessa loves to help families develop meaningful behavioral plans and will be collaborating with the clinical staff as needed.

Alyssa Wurtzel, MSW, LCSW

Alyssa is a social worker in New Britain with a specialization in working with people with serious chronic mental illness and substance abuse. She has a lifelong love of animals, and group work. She assists in group therapy programs at Soul Friends.



Alyssa with Ceasar

Rich Smalley, MSW

Rich has a long, extensive history of helping children.

  Currently, he assists children adjusting to foster care through his work at Klingberg Family Services.  Rich has had training in MFT, attachment disorder through his training with Daniel Hughes and he is proficient in Sign Language.  Rich lives at home with his two Jack Russell terriers that keep him busy.  He has an interest in the benefits of nature programming and animal assisted interventions, particularly with adolescents.

             Bridget Davey, MSW, LCSW -  Program Manager  Probate Court Visit Coaching

             Bridget brings to Soul Friends more than 20 years  of  experience in the mental health field.  She graduated from Providence in Collge in 1981 and received an MSW from UCONN School of Social Work in 1989.  She worked with children in a residential treatment center after her from Providence College in she worked at the Institute of the Living in a number of capacities with adults in inpatient settings as well as   intensive outpatient and Emergency Department.

 She lives with her husband, two teenage sons and their dog
Sandi.  At Soul Friends she provides therapeutic supervised visits for
families referred from Children’s Probate Court

 Kristin Pleines, MSW -  ( with pet partner, Rosie)

Kristin brings to her work a love of play therapy.  As an   MSW intern at Soul Friends, Inc two years ago, Kristin hit  the ground running and quickly proposed program development ideas to improve our work with our youngest clients and their families.  A pet partner team, with Rosie Kristin has worked in our group therapy programs and will start to see clients in the office Spring 2012.