In 2014, Dr. Hallie Sheade began her private counseling practice, Equine Connection Counseling (ECC). This alternative approach to mental health counseling has served many people who haven’t found success in traditional office-based counseling or psychotherapy. She and her team have provided over 6,500 hours of equine assisted counseling to military veterans and their families, at-risk youth, and others with mental health needs.
As Dr. Sheade’s practice began to grow, she noticed two significant issues. First, she noticed that many veterans and at-risk youths did not have the needed funds to pay for continued counseling sessions once grant-funded sessions had been completed. Second, Dr. Sheade noticed that many of her clients were reluctant to end therapy sessions once treatment goals had been met. They did not want to lose their connection with the equines. Her clients’ desire to receive continued services opened the door to solving a common problem in counseling–locating post-counseling support. Post-counseling support is essential to minimizing regression and reducing the risk of relapse and hospitalization for mental health issues.
As a result, Dr. Sheade applied for grants for mental health care in partnership with established nonprofit organizations. These grants help pay for these clients to attend sessions at ECC. In addition, she developed the S.T.E.P.S. Model, Spectrum of Therapeutic Equine-Partnered Services, to provide multiple levels of mental health care in the form of mental health counseling and psychotherapy (treatment) and post-treatment support at one location.
Through the S.T.E.P.S. Model, Clients have access to an array of clinical services (professional counseling) and non-clinical services (post-counseling supportive activities) that are coordinated by a licensed mental health professional. These non-clinical services enable the client to deepen their connections with equines in a supportive environment. Furthermore, this ongoing support and monitoring allows potential regression to be quickly identified and addressed. This ensures our clients’ continuity of care by improving clients’ quality of life and addressing our clients’ changing needs to minimize potential post-counseling regression.
This was a great first step, but it wasn’t enough. The demand for equine assisted counseling became so overwhelming that Dr. Sheade had to create a lengthy wait-list. This was due to both a lack of funding and facility limitations.
Dr. Sheade saw a need for a nonprofit that would better be able to...
1) Provide financial assistance and scholarship programs through grants and tax-exempt donations for these vulnerable populations. 2) Overcome current facility limitations. 3) Expand programming to provide supportive services to assist clients in maintaining positive mental health and reduce the risk of relapse.
Finally, Dr. Sheade took the next big step in 2019 by beginning to transition her private practice, ECC, into her non-profit organization, S.T.E.P.S. With Horses. S.T.E.P.S. facility partner, The Ranch at Windy Point, has enabled S.T.E.P.S. to begin to realize these goals.
Taking S.T.E.P.S. 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, S.T.E.P.S. 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, due to be 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, S.T.E.P.S. plans to scale the S.T.E.P.S Model to create additional locations throughout the state of Texas.
Want to be a part of our future? Contact us or visit our Ways to Givepage to make a positive impact on someone’s life.