Mount Saint Vincent Clinical Director Kirk Ward knew early in life what he wanted to do for a living. His decision to study psychology came about after he witnessed the quiet struggles of a close family friend. “Mike had a lot of issues when he was young, and as result, he was always in trouble in elementary school,” Ward said. Fortunately, mental health services were widely available in schools back in the 60s. Mike worked extensively with the school psychologist and it turned his life around. “I thought what the psychologist did was really cool, and that’s what got me interested,” Ward said. “From that point on, I felt pulled into a career in mental health.”
This Job Was Different
While Ward was pursuing his undergraduate degree in psychology, a friend recommended that he apply for a job as a swim instructor at Mount Saint Vincent. It was the summer of 1983. Ward’s previous summer jobs were unremarkable, but this time, it was different. “It just felt so natural to be here, and so fulfilling to make connections with the kids and see them improve,” Ward said. “It was really hard to leave at the end of the summer.”
From then on, Ward volunteered at the agency and spent time at the school every chance he could. Through a stroke of luck, a job opened up right after Ward received his bachelor’s degree.
Ward worked as a mental health worker for six years. While working, he obtained his master of social work degree. In 1990, he was promoted to float therapist, and eventually became a treatment leader. Mount Saint Vincent named him clinical director in 1999.
New Therapies Aid Healing
During his tenure, Ward has introduced numerous alternative therapies, such as art, music, play, animal-assisted, dance/movement, and equine. Each has a place in therapeutic treatment depending on the needs of the child. He also adopted the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), a highly relational, positive model that builds upon a child’s innate strengths. In 2012, Mount Saint Vincent earned the designation of NMT Flagship Site, an honor bestowed by Houston-based ChildTrauma Academy.
These days, Ward’s knowledge and skill in conducting comprehensive NMT brain assessments for traumatized children causes him to be in high demand throughout the country. His assessments are both in-depth and spot-on. “We’ve had so many evaluations done on our son,” said the mother of a nine-year-old boy, “but we’ve never had one this thorough, or had so many suggestions on how we can help our child. It’s as if Kirk has known my son all his life.”
Ward sees the agency continuing to serve children in need and expanding those services to include a preventative component. “We are reaching out to school districts, parent groups, and other professional and community organizations who are interested in learning about healthy brain development,” Ward said.
The Spirit of Mount Saint Vincent
In June of 2014, Ward celebrated an amazing 30 years of service to Mount Saint Vincent. When asked what has kept him at the agency, Ward gives three reasons. “First, I’ve never had two days that have been the same,” he said. “Every day presents new challenges.” Another element of his job that keeps him going is having past residents, now grown, come back to visit and express their thanks. “I have such great memories, and we reminisce about what a special place this is,” he said.
But perhaps the defining reason for Ward’s longevity is the spirit of Mount Saint Vincent. “There’s just something about this place, something that defies definition,” he said. “It attracts really, really good people that are committed to helping others.”
Ward has worked with literally dozens of professionals over the past three decades. He states that almost without exception, those people look back at their time here with great fondness. “The spirit of Mount Saint Vincent never leaves you,” Ward said. “It’s always there inside.”