About Kerry Smalling
My mother was an elementary school teacher who always emphasized the importance of education. She worked long hours to make sure children found learning enjoyable. My father was a cook on tug boats. He would be on the ocean for two weeks at a time. When he wasn’t home, I would go with my grandmother to the senior center and spend time with the veterans playing pool or crocheting and doing the chicken dance with the ladies. They were great people who taught me many things. They taught me to respect and care for others, the value of a person’s word, that you should consider your handshake to be as binding as any contract, and that your work is a representation of who you are—it is what you leave behind in this world—and to do it well shows self respect and honor. They taught me about the sacrifices the men and women of our military make so that we can enjoy our many freedoms. These lessons are priceless and shaped who I am today.
Figuring out what I wanted to do as a career out of high school was difficult and overwhelming. I applied to SUNY Oswego, because that was the school my mother went to, and I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I was accepted and spent my first semester of college rollerblading through the halls. At the end of the semester, I realized I was a few grand in debt and still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So, I decided to work in fields I may be interested in, starting with veterinary medicine. After assisting with draining an abscess on a cat and losing my lunch into a garbage pail, I learned this was not the career path for me. What I did realize was many of my co-workers and friends would come to me for advice concerning their relationships, various problems, or help with decision making. One day someone said, “You should hang a shingle.” This was when I realized how much I enjoyed helping people and that this was the career I needed to pursue.
I attended Farmingdale University and eventually earned my associates degree in liberal arts. While attending Farmingdale, I enrolled in as many psychology classes as my degree would allow. My interest in the field grew. I then transferred to Stony Brook University to complete my bachelor’s degree and graduated as Valedictorian for both Psychology and Sociology. I chose these disciplines because I wanted to learn not only how the mind works but how we allow society to influence the way we think and behave. I continued to pay my way through college by working in the veterinary field and noted the strong bonds between people and their pets. I heard countless stories from pet owners of how their furry, feathered, or even scaled friends not only provided companionship and support but acted as a motivating force for them to continue to fight their way through difficult times. After doing some research on pet therapy, my goal became to eventually rescue and train animals to assist me in helping others through the therapeutic process. A four-legged co-therapist, if you will.
During my first semester at Stony Brook, I enrolled in a course named Cognition and Perception, which taught how the mind retains information. I applied what I learned in this class to designing a studying technique that never failed me. I shared this technique with several friends along the way; helping them pass some difficult classes. I went on to receive my Graduate Degree in Social Services with honors, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
During my graduate studies, my mother was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. A brilliant woman, a teacher for thirty years, began to forget how to get home from the store. My studies gave me an understanding of this disease that the physicians failed to communicate with my parents. I had to explain to my mother what this diagnosis meant and how it would progress. I studied every bit of literature on the disease I could find and tried every suggestion that would reportedly slow down the process. I again observed the comfort she gained from her dogs during her most anxious and confused moments. I learned the frustrations, disappointments, exhaustion and grief that a caregiver experiences first-hand. I remembered my senior citizen buddies that I used to spend time with and recognized, now, the warning signs I saw in some of them then. I decided to work with the demographic who taught me the valuable lessons I needed to achieve my goals: seniors. Many of the stories they shared were of the love and concern they had about their families. So, I began working with seniors suffering with dementia, and their caregivers. I worked in skilled nursing and assisted livings, using my knowledge and experience to help others through the difficult processes that various ailments present; working with patients suffering from dementia; and expanded into working with those coping with MS, PTSD, amputations, and other conditions affecting cognitive and physical functioning. My mother passed in December 2011 as I held her hand. We battled the disease together, and she taught me so much in the process, tools that make me a better practitioner today.
After graduation, I continued on to take my licensing exam and earned my Social Work license. I then completed 6 years of clinical training, qualifying me to sit for the clinical exam and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
My Mission Statement:
Live every day. Take it one day at a time. Just keep going, because with each step the finish line gets closer. Take the time to recognize the things in life that make you smile, and do them! Don’t give the things that bring you down undue attention, especially when they are beyond your control. Be a little bit selfish; taking care of yourself is nothing to feel guilty about.
This mission motivates my practice and will help me continue to help others achieve their peace.