Finding Serenity through Connection: Equine Assisted Counseling for PTSD Symptoms at STEPS With Horses
Recovering from traumatic experiences is a deeply personal journey, and not every approach works for everyone. Anyone who has experienced a deeply stressful, upsetting, or traumatic event can develop PTSD. If you're searching for an alternative to traditional office-based therapy, let us introduce you to the incredible world of Equine Assisted Counseling. At STEPS With Horses, we believe in the power of combining horses and human connection to facilitate healing. Join us as we explore how our Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling approach can address each cluster of PTSD and provide a path towards renewed strength and hope.
Intrusive Thoughts, Feelings, and Memories
Dealing with the intense emotions and physical sensations associated with past traumas can be overwhelming. Nightmares, flashbacks, and unwanted memories make everyday life a challenge. This is where our equine partners come in. With their innate ability to sense human emotions, they become powerful allies in helping us recognize triggers, manage negative feelings, and develop coping skills. Together, we'll navigate through the difficult moments and find ways to restore peace and emotional balance.
Avoidance and Numbing
We all have a natural tendency to avoid painful thoughts and emotions linked to our trauma. But what if you had a judgment-free space to express yourself openly? That's exactly what our equine partners provide. Through building a relationship with them, you'll create a safe environment that encourages vulnerability and reduces avoidance of people, places, and things associated with your past trauma. Equines will guide you in practicing calming techniques and gradually help you face the triggers that once seemed insurmountable. They understand the importance of fostering trust and healing, supporting you in reconnecting with the world around you.
Patterns of Negative Thoughts and Mood
Trauma can make us feel disconnected from ourselves and others, trapping us in a cycle of negativity. However, the presence of these majestic creatures has a magical effect. Just being around them sparks a sense of joy and connection that can be transformative. Equines have a unique way of awakening the "connecting part" of our brains, allowing us to rediscover the beauty of human relationships. Engaging in physical activities with them reignites our passions and revitalizes our motivation for life's everyday joys.
Physical and Emotional Reactivity
Living with constant hypervigilance and an underlying sense of unease takes its toll. Equines, as prey animals, are naturally alert and aware of their surroundings. They provide a powerful example of being vigilant while also finding moments of relaxation and enjoyment. Spending time with these gentle giants will teach you to let your guard down, view your surroundings with clarity, and experience a sense of peace. As you engage with them, you'll witness firsthand their ability to reduce reactivity and find harmony within their environment.
Take the First Step Towards Healing!
If you're ready to embark on a journey of healing and transformation, STEPS With Horses is here to support you every step of the way. Our Equine Assisted Counseling program offers a compassionate and innovative approach to address PTSD. Reach out today and take that first courageous step towards reclaiming your life.
And to those who wish to make a lasting impact, your generous support as a donor enables us to continue providing life-changing services to those in need. Give a gift today!
Contact us by phone at 682-219-8733 or send us a message to learn more about our services and start your journey today.
*Photos depict models, not actual STEPS clients
Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a daily battle, affecting individuals of all ages. Coping with the aftermath of traumatic experiences requires a unique and holistic approach to healing. Equine assisted counseling, an innovative counseling approach, offers a powerful avenue for individuals with PTSD to embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and recovery. In this blog post, we will explore how the presence of equines, the tranquil herd environment, and the psychotherapeutic process itself can help clients find solace, build resilience, and reclaim their lives.
Staying Grounded in the Presence of Equines
Equines have an innate ability to sense and respond to human emotions, providing a remarkable sense of grounding and presence. When engaging in equine assisted counseling, clients often find solace in the comforting presence of these majestic animals. The physicality and immediacy of interacting with equines help individuals stay grounded in the present moment, allowing them to step away from the overwhelming memories and anxieties that frequently accompany PTSD.
Creating a Safe Space within the Tranquil Herd Environment
The serene and tranquil environment where equine assisted counseling takes place can be profoundly therapeutic for clients with PTSD. Equines live in a tightly bonded herd, characterized by a sense of safety, trust, and acceptance. As clients enter this environment, they experience a unique sense of belonging, free from judgment or expectations. The herd’s peacefulness and non-verbal communication become a catalyst for emotional healing and growth.
Processing Difficult Experiences and Emotions
The powerful presence of equines in equine assisted counseling sessions can help clients navigate and process difficult experiences and emotions associated with PTSD. As clients form connections with the equines, they often find it easier to express and explore their own traumatic memories. Equines become gentle guides in the healing process, allowing individuals to confront and work through their emotions at a pace that feels manageable.
Recognizing the Window of Tolerance
Equine assisted counseling empowers clients to recognize their own “window of tolerance” – the range of emotional states in which they can function effectively. By observing how equines respond to their emotions, individuals with PTSD can gain insight into their own physiological and emotional reactions. Through this self-awareness, they learn to identify when they are becoming overwhelmed and develop skills to regulate their emotional states more effectively.
Learning to Identify Needs, Communicate, and Set Healthy Boundaries
Interacting with equines can be a powerful experience for clients, helping them gain insight into patterns of communication, assertiveness, and boundary setting. Equines respond to non-verbal cues and provide immediate feedback, creating a safe space for clients to practice assertiveness and healthy communication. Equine assisted counseling facilitates the development of crucial life skills, empowering individuals to identify their own needs, communicate effectively, and establish healthy boundaries – invaluable tools for navigating relationships and building resilience in their everyday lives.
Increasing Positive Feelings and Hopefulness
The transformative power of equine assisted counseling extends beyond immediate therapeutic sessions. Clients often report increased positive feelings and a restored sense of hopefulness about the future. The relationships formed with the equines, the supportive therapeutic environment, and the progress made in addressing their PTSD symptoms contribute to a renewed belief in their own resilience and capacity for growth.
Improved Self-Worth and Self-Compassion
Equine assisted counseling can profoundly impact clients’ perceptions of self. Through their interactions with equines, individuals develop a deep sense of self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-compassion. Equines, with their ability to meet individuals exactly where they are, empower clients to embrace their vulnerabilities, strengths, and unique qualities. As clients witness the non-judgmental response from these intuitive creatures, they begin to see themselves through a lens of kindness and appreciation
STEPS With Horses, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to equine assisted mental health services, offers two distinct approaches to address PTSD in different age groups. Our Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling approach focuses on building safe and trusting relationships with equines, integrating principles of interpersonal neurobiology, and creating a space for clients to explore their personal beliefs and experiences. This approach is designed for older children, teens, and adults, emphasizing experiential therapy and the therapeutic power of the equine-human connection.
For younger children ages 4 and older, STEPS offers Equine-Partnered Play Therapy. This form of play therapy enables children to engage with miniature horses while expressing and processing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through play – their language, and toys – their words. The presence of these horses aids children in gaining greater self-regulation, self-control, empathy, self-awareness, decision-making, communication, and confidence.
By harnessing the healing power of equines, STEPS With Horses provides invaluable support to those living with PTSD, helping them rediscover their strength, resilience, and hope for a brighter future.
If you are interested in experiencing the power of the human-equine relationship, contact us at www.stepswithhorses.org/contact
Interested in giving the life-changing gift of equine assisted counseling? Support our clients and our therapy herd at www.stepswithhorses.org/donate
Troy* was a Navy veteran who had lost several friends to suicide. He had also attempted suicide himself and struggled with PTSD from this experience. Despite his best efforts, Troy found himself overwhelmed by grief and anxiety. He was struggling to find a way to process his emotions and move forward. One day, his cousin suggested he try equine assisted counseling.
When Troy arrived for his first session, he was highly anxious. He had never worked with horses before and wasn’t sure what to expect. He was immediately drawn to a horse named Sassy who was the first to approach him. Despite her bold approach, there was something calming about Sassy that drew Troy toward her.
As Troy spent more time with Sassy, he began to notice how her behavior changed when his emotions changed. Recognizing changes in Sassy’s behavior helped Troy begin to gain a greater awareness of his own emotions and new perspective on how he was feeling. With Sassy by his side, Troy felt more comfortable to talk about his experiences, even the traumatic ones, with more ease. He found that having a hand on Sassy’s neck helped him stay calmer during these conversations.
Through his time with Sassy, Troy also began to explore his own sense of self since leaving the military. He realized that he struggled with decision-making and was often unsure of what he wanted. But, as Troy continued to work with Sassy and the other horses, he became more confident in recognizing how they communicated with him. In turn, Troy became more confident in recognizing his own needs and communicating them to the horses.
As Troy approached the end of his time in equine assisted counseling, he recognized many ways that the horses had helped him change. He noticed that he was more confident, more self-aware, and better able to manage his emotions. Troy expressed gratitude for the experience and how he would continue to use the skills learned from his time with Sassy for the rest of his life.
You can help military veterans like Troy during Mental Health Awareness Month! For every donation of $15 or more during the month of May 2023, North Texas Giving Day and The Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation will add an extra $15, amplifying the impact of your contribution.
Donate at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/organization/stepswithhorses
*Names and details have been changed to protect client privacy and identity
STEPS With Horses