Saturday 23 February 2019
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Katie McGrory : Bringing Help, Hope and Awareness Where it Counts

“One of the most beautiful things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”

  ~Shannon L. Alder

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry

Katie McGrory, a Savannah native, has lived in the area since 2016. She has been a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist for Harmony House, her private practice, since 2009. Katie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2002; she later obtained her Master of Science Degree in Clinical Psychology from Georgia Southern University in 2006.

     Thereafter, Katie started teaching collegiate level psychology and went on to begin her counseling career. Currently, Katie does mental health counseling, treating a vast range of clients, from birth to adult.

     Katie offers 100% of various counseling and mental health services. Whether engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy with adults, helping women through challenging divorces or assisting grandparents with behaviorally challenged grandkids who reside with them, Katie’s professional scope is quite broad. She, too, offers group therapy and family counseling sessions to all who may benefit. Actually, Katie is proud to be a part of a fairly new form of group therapy; alongside Mary Close and Jessica Partain, owners of Riley’s Rescue Ranch in Guyton, Katie works with her young clients to interact with therapeutic horses. These horses are trained to maintain the “right temperament to work with kids with all kinds of issues.” The concept has proved to be very successful for her families. Katie appreciates all the promising services offered by Mary and Jessica, knowing that it is a “team effort.”

     Katie focuses largely on helping children with numerous concerns, whether ADHD, anxiety disorders or autism, only to name a few. Autism itself is defined as a “mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.” Katie specializes in treating children with high-functioning autism, which often impacts a child’s social skills in contrast with low-functioning autism, which can pose much greater challenges.

      Interestingly enough, the Harmony House logo, a house made of “puzzle pieces,” indicates that Katie specializes in helping children with high-functioning autism; it is utterly definitive of Katie’s professional plight, as she persists to fulfill her motto: “to create harmony when the puzzle pieces fit.” When parents are enlisting Katie’s assistance, she wants to figure out each detail about their child…each pattern of behavior…each motivation or lack thereof. She “looks at all that is going on with the child” to begin steps to properly fit those often misunderstood, confusing puzzle pieces together.

     Katie affirms, “Then, we can start the work of addressing their issues and begin creating harmony. When the puzzle pieces fit, things get better.”

     As a registered play therapist, Katie has specialized training in working with children. Katie is able to assess activities and behaviors during a play session, which allows her to make proper inferences.

      “I use my playroom to build relationships with children. Adults talk about their feelings, but children play out their feelings,” she said.

     Katie has long had a passion for those impacted by autism and has a sincere heart to help. She would like the community and society as a whole to understand autism better; she wants to clear up the misconceptions that have been prevalent for so long. Hence, Katie knows that most of the misunderstandings and falsities about childhood autism are directly due to a lack of information about the condition, and she certainly wants to help her clients with autistic children to understand it better.

     “I want to have more information and more support out for the autism community. I love working with kids who have high-functioning autism because I feel I understand how their brain works; I understand their challenges because I understand them. I can explain to their parents and to the schools the way they feel and why they’re acting a certain way,” she said.

     Often feelings of hopelessness and defeat may consume parents who feel that they have exhausted every plausible solution.

     Nonetheless, Katie is committed to “give support to the families,” working with each of them to cater to their own very unique situations. She strives to piece together the best course of action for their lives in order for the “child with autism to be the most functioning person they can be.”

     Many who are unaware of the effects of autism often feel that diagnosed children would benefit solely from discipline and correction. However, Katie wants to spread proper awareness to the families and community as a whole.

     She asserts, “Parents come to see me because they feel like they failed as parents, because their parenting skills are not working. This isn’t a child who’s being bad or acting up. This is a child who is confused and doesn’t understand our world, so I can meet them where they are to know how to be successful and functioning. The families are getting healthier.   The parents are grateful; I’m a support system for them, too. I think the parents feel supported and empowered to be able to handle these issues, having that support and knowing they’re not alone and knowing I’m advocating for their children. I just love the families I work with.”

     Further, Katie is aware that many school counselors, special education teachers and other educational professionals lack knowledge of the condition; therefore, it is often not given the correct attention. Katie attends 504 meetings and IEP meetings at schools to help inform educators and help them with each individual case as much as possible.

     She remarks, “These kids are like my kids. I’m very protective of them and want to make sure that they get really good counseling.”

      In addition, Katie knows that it definitely takes a village to help children succeed. That said, she receives client referrals from various community professionals, whether pediatricians, attorneys, schools or others in the lives of those children who may exhibit a need for assistance.

     Katie’s practice is doing very well and she is looking forward to the future. She aspires to one day offer an after-school program for children with high-functioning autism, those kids beyond the middle school years. She would also like to do ongoing training for counselors and play therapists, so there is more of them available to help children in the community. She, too, would like to offer a special support group for this community, where families of children with autism can meet each other and ‘connect’ kids together. She plans to offer parenting groups, those emphasizing effective parenting techniques geared towards each individual child’s needs.

     Katie knows that there is no “I” in “team.” She is incredibly grateful to Jerri Frost, who has been her colleague since 2016. Jerri is a licensed clinical social worker for kids and adults; she is presently working on her registered play therapist credentials. Jerri has helped a lot, and Katie feels that her contributions have been invaluable.

     “She has been a great help…a great addition to the community; she took some of the load,” Katie stated.

     Katie is currently on the board of Ready2Connect, an organization which helps to empower people who are unemployed and looking for work, along with those seeking financial stability.

     She works closely with DFCS (Department  of Family and Children Services), along with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), who are committed to improving the lives of children in foster care.

     In her free time, Katie, who is very big on rescue pets, likes to spend time with her rescued fur babies. She has four dogs, seven cats and even a therapeutic horse, Mocha. She also likes to read and go to catch a good movie at times.

     Katie wants all families in need of assistance to know that needing help is okay. Moreover, asking for it is courageous.

     She comments, “Needing help with their children is not a weakness; it’s not a reflection of their parenting. It’s okay to need help; it’s important to get good help. Families can get healthier…that’s the goal.”