About Us

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.

 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.




Vanessa Pera, MSW, LCSW – Behavioral ConsultantVanessa 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.




Lori Rathchelous, MSW

Lori brings to Soul Friends her experience in grief and bereavement services at her time working at Yale.  Currently, completing a post Master’s certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy with Dr. Phil Arkow.  Lori welcomed her canine partner, Nutmeg into working in both individual and group therapy services.





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,