By AMY BOARD HIGGS
If warmth and empathy could be gift-wrapped, the package might look like therapist Claudia Crawford.
Perhaps it’s because her steady, attentive green eyes easily convince you there’s nothing you could confess that she couldn’t help you overcome. Maybe it’s because her East End office is as bright and friendly as her wardrobe, with its comfortable couches and children’s toys, including a towering bookcase crammed with the Beanie Babies she began collecting in 1996. It might be her chicken rice soup, requested by friends who swear by its healing powers when they have a cold.
Or maybe it has something to do with her constant companion, therapy dog Wiggles, a 10-year-old, occasionally pugnacious pug who whines when she leaves the room. Wiggles is a great ice-breaker and instantly puts people at ease, Crawford said. In fact, some of her young patients prefer to share their fears with him instead of her during sessions. Wiggles, for his part, is true to his name and happy to help.
Crawford is both humbled and grateful to have counseled hundreds of children with behavioral issues since she earned her master’s degree in child development and marital and family therapy from Western Kentucky University in 1972.
She started her career with the University of Louisville Medical School’s Child Evaluation Center, and then went into private practice in 1983, specializing in child sexual abuse and ADHD. For Crawford, warmth and empathy truly are job requirements.
Fortunately, she gets her greatest joy out of helping others. Unfortunately, her passion for service was borne out of personal tragedy.
Crawford is a Michigan native but moved to Louisville’s Jeffersontown at age 8. Her mother, Bernice Hopkins, was the first female city councilwoman for J-town and still lives there. Her father, Martin Hopkins, passed away during her first year of college.
Crawford graduated from Eastern High School in 1967 and went on to WKU for undergraduate school. At age 20, she married. But the couple was in a car accident a week after their wedding, on the way home from their honeymoon. Crawford was thrown from the car and survived with minor injuries, but her husband was killed.
“I was a bride one Saturday, and the next Saturday I was picking out coffins,” Crawford said. “It was quite an adjustment from feeling like your whole life is ahead of you to what felt like a black hole.”
Through the support of friends and family, Crawford went back to Western to finish her degree and pursue a career in therapy.
Crawford said that her gut-wrenching loss taught her two things. One, her gratitude for the love and support of friends and family made her want to spend the rest of her life giving that gift to others. And two, there is nothing in life that God could throw at her that she couldn’t survive.
This lesson helped her survive another heartbreak a few years later. Crawford never remarried but decided she wanted to be a mother, so she attempted a single-parent adoption. The birth father changed his mind the day the baby was born, calling off the adoption process. Crawford was crushed, but she knows it was meant to be.
And Crawford does a lot. The laundry list of her volunteer activities fills several pages of her resume. She has served on boards, task forces and committees for numerous nonprofit and professional organizations, including the Center for Women and Families, Family & Children’s Place, Goodwill Industries and the Kentucky Alliance for Missing and Exploited Children.
Crawford said simply, “Since God spared my life in that accident and everyone called it a miracle, I feel like it’s important for me to make life better for others by being in it.”
She is most proud of being part of the team that helped get the Marital Rape Bill passed in Kentucky. She is currently working with a group that is encouraging women to call their congressman in Frankfort to protest proposed amendments to the Violence Against Women Act. She is also spearheading a fund-raising project for Goodwill. People in the community are encouraged to submit old family recipes, along with anecdotal stories associated with the recipes, for publication in a cookbook that will be sold in Goodwill thrift stores.
When she is not out actively making the world a better place, Crawford spends her free time on her own brand of therapy – knitting and cross-stitch. She also enjoys swimming, cooking and watching movies at her home in the Brownsboro Road/Rudy Lane area. A recent favorite film – no surprise – was “Red Dog.” (Wiggles approved.)
She enjoys her downtime, but Crawford doesn’t see retirement in her future anytime soon. She feels she has a lot more yet to give.
“I love what I do,” Crawford said, tearing up as she recalled some of the troubled children she has counseled over the years. “There is no greater gift than… to be part of a child’s recovery.”