In 2014, Dr. Hallie Sheade began her private counseling practice, Equine Connection Counseling (ECC). ECC provided equine assisted counseling, an alternative to office-based talk therapy for clients who haven’t found success in more traditional approaches. She and her team have provided over 8,000 individual equine assisted counseling session to military veterans and their families, at-risk youth, and others with mental health needs.
As Dr. Sheade’s practice grew, it became clear that many of her clients had financial hardships that made it difficult to pay for counseling sessions – particularly for veterans and at-risk youth. As a result, Dr. Sheade and her husband, Paul Ziehe, a USMC Veteran, founded S.T.E.P.S. With Horses (STEPS) to raise funding for veterans, at-risk youth and others with financial hardship in order to afford counseling services.
When STEPS was founded, the intent was for Dr. Sheade’s private practice, ECC, to transition its counseling clients and staff to STEPS. This transition was completed on November 1, 2021 and Dr. Sheade was named the Executive Director of STEPS.
After the counseling treatment goals have been met, post-counseling support is essential to maintain the progress that was made in counseling and to minimize regression. Too often, it is difficult to find suitable local post-counseling support. Dr. Sheade noticed that many of her clients were reluctant to end therapy sessions once treatment goals had been met as they did not want to lose their connection with the equines. Her clients’ desire to remain connected to the equines opened the door to a solution to the difficulty of locating post-counseling support – provide on-site equine assisted post-counseling support. This idea was developed into a program called Spectrum of Therapeutic Equine-Partnered Services (STEPS Model).
In the STEPS Model, clients have access to an array of clinical and non-clinical services. Clinical services include professional counseling conducted by a licensed mental health professional (or graduate intern under appropriate supervision). Non-clinical services include different types of therapeutic horsemanship activities. Non-clinical services are monitored periodically by a licensed mental health professional. These periodic check-ins allow for potential regression to be quickly identified and addressed. In this model, clients have access to a continuity of care which will improve a client's quality of life and address a client's changing needs over time.
Finally, as of November 1, 2021 STEPS will now be providing services at 4 Hearts Ranch – a conveniently accessible location in south Fort Worth - with its own recently-acquired program equines.
Taking STEPS towards a brighter future
Our organization is unique because it fills a gap in the mental health field that is currently not well-served, particularly for veterans and at-risk youth who do not respond to or avoid traditional office-based therapy.
Unlike many other equine assisted counseling programs, S.T.E.P.S. primarily offers individual sessions enabling clients to receive individualized attention and treatment plans to best address their unique mental health needs.
The goal is to make services free to veterans (and their families) and to provide scholarship support to others with financial need in order to improve the mental health and quality of life for those most in need through the powerful healing of horses.
Under Dr. Sheade’s leadership, STEPS intends to be a leader in this emerging field by striving to bring continuity and credibility through training professionals, conducting and publishing scientifically supported research on the benefits of equine assisted counseling, and educating the general public through a community outreach program. Dr. Sheade is recognized as an industry leader for her contributions in pioneering her unique models of equine assisted counseling and training professionals seeking to practice this form of counseling. Dr. Sheade further reflects her expertise in her textbook, Healing Through Horses: Equine-Assisted Counseling and Psychotherapy, released by Routledge in August 2020. Her contributions to the field are also recognized by Dr. Cynthia Chandler, one of the world-leading authorities on animal assisted therapies, in Dr. Chandler’s seminal text, Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling.
In the long term, STEPS plans to scale the STEPS Model to create additional locations throughout the state of Texas.
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