The Exceptional Sidekick is breaking through the stigma of mental illness with psychiatric service dogs and well-educated teen mental health advocates.

Teen Advocate Program

After successfully launching in Newtown, CT, our Teen Advocate Program aims to expand to additional locations. We unite school communities and teens impacted by or interested in brain health, recovery, and psychiatric service dogs. This initiative fosters open conversations about mental health, encouraging students to share their feelings and break the stigma. Research highlights the benefits of peer support, from forming connections to reducing hospitalization. Our teen advocates offer a safe, empathetic space, utilizing the presence of psychiatric service dogs to facilitate comfortable discussions and create a supportive environment. 
In collaboration with Mental Health America and Teen Talk, we developed a unique Teen Advocate Program. Developed in partnership, this six-week after-school initiative, identified by school counselors, is designed for students eager to openly discuss internal challenges. The program encompasses Mental Health Peer Advocate Training and Psychiatric Service Dog Training. Weekly assignments cover prevalent mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, eating disorders, and recovery. Our aim is to teach teens that these experiences vary for each individual, fostering understanding and empathy through meaningful conversations.
Teens in our program acquire crucial listening skills to support peers and learn when to guide them toward professional help. We empower students to share their experiences, fostering compassionate conversations. The curriculum includes lessons on healthy self-care practices for stress management. Upon completion, students gain the opportunity to provide peer support by walking the halls with our dogs. This unique experience not only encourages open discussions about stress but also provides comfort through interaction with the dogs.

In School Puppy Raising

We invite public and private schools dedicated to supporting students’ mental health to adopt our In-school Service Dog & Teen Advocate Program. As one of the few organizations training psychiatric service dogs for teens with disabilities like PTSD, Severe Depression, or Severe Anxiety Disorders, our commitment is unwavering. We aim to ensure that students with mental illnesses can access service dogs, preventing limitations to their education. By partnering with teachers who volunteer as puppy raisers, our Service Dogs in Training (SDiT) become integral members of the school community. Through daily school attendance, weekly training sessions, and participation in after-school activities, these exceptional dogs not only support individuals in need but also contribute to breaking the stigma of mental illness alongside our dedicated Teen Advocates.