Mental health matters for kids, too

Posted 8/2/23

Jumping Mouse will be hosting a fundraising event Saturday, Aug. 12 at Wilderbee Farm to raise ...

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Mental health matters for kids, too


Jumping Mouse will be hosting a fundraising event Saturday, Aug. 12 at Wilderbee Farm to raise awareness for their organization and promote their mission: transforming children’s lives by nurturing healthy development and supportive relationships at home and in the community.

Jumping Mouse was formed in 1999 by a local therapist with the intent to focus on expressive mental health therapy for children ages three to 12. “Expressive mental health is an ambiguous term for a lot of people,” said Gabrielle Vanwert, developmental director.

“We have our own modality, drawing on play therapy,” she added.

The different methods of play therapy are all child-led. “Maybe one child comes in and they’re really drawn to the sand tray, while another will want to go outside and pick berries with their therapist,” Vanwert said. “Many also benefit from using dolls or figurines to act out traumatic events in their life they are working through, such as their parents’ divorce.”

She said research shows when children are playing, especially within the presence of a safe adult, they rewire neural pathways. This results in better educational outcomes and healthier attachments. 

“Overall, it helps them reground into a fuller sense of self, so they can continue to be the little humans they’re meant to be,” Vanwert said.

Vanwert comes from a multifaceted background: an undergraduate in psychology, a master’s degree in business, a soon-to-be doctorate in anthropology, 10 years of military service, and parenthood. Of that list, the latter has been most influential in her work with Jumping Mouse. 

“Since having children and experiencing the challenges that come with the territory, I have a deeper appreciation for how much energy it takes to raise them,” she said.5

“I think a lot of parents experience a sense of loneliness. It takes a village, and not everyone has that.”

Because of this, Jumping Mouse aims to be the support network that these young families need, providing a multitude of resources not only at their Sheridan Street location, but throughout the Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Brinnon school districts.

Kimberley Gorman, executive director, works closely with primary and elementary school teachers to help them understand the needs of their students. Gorman offers them problem-solving tools and ideas for supporting children and families affected by trauma, discusses the barriers to implementing that support, and encourages self-compassion throughout the process. 

“Our post-pandemic community has seen an uptick in generalized anxiety,” said Vanwert. “Children aren’t necessarily in the same developmental space that we would have expected five years ago. Learning to navigate this new, unprecedented landscape of mental health is hard. That’s why it’s extra important that people know we are here, as a resource.”

A few things set Jumping Mouse apart from traditional therapy. 

“We have about 17 on staff, 13 of which are therapists. We see a hundred children per week. When a therapist works with a child, it’s every week at the same time, in the same room. We keep the routine stable to develop a consistent relationship,” Vanwert said.

The therapist will also generally meet with the parents once a month. While ensuring confidentiality, they provide guidance to caregivers on how they can best support their child. 

Jumping Mouse also runs a thriving internship program. 

“Many of our staff therapists were interns here in the past,” Vanwert said. 

“They have smaller caseloads to make sure they are honoring their experience, that they are addressing their own internal biases, and that they’re able to separate what’s activating in themselves versus what’s showing up in a child,” she said. 

These interns work as closely with their licensed supervisors as they do with the kids, resulting in a smooth, confident transition from the program into a career.