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Posts Tagged ‘psychotherapy’

Survivors of trauma, loss, illness, abuse, stress, and depression can face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But today, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that horses play a crucial role in therapy for those struggling with significant psychological and emotional challenges. Horses respond to angry, inhibited, heartbroken, defiant, terrified clients in many different ways, often breaking through defensive barriers via their physical presence, or by pointing to areas of psychological distress not immediately apparent. The horse’s response guides the treatment team, as well as the client, in the healing process.

Consider these true stories:

Ashley was locked in closets as punishment, and physically and sexually abused, resulting in an angry and violent child who threatened her adoptive family—until she met Cocoa and Radar, the horses that helped her learn to trust again.

Brenda was diagnosed bipolar and lived through humiliating domestic abuse, but three horses—Delilah, Wiscy, and Diesel—helped her establish a sense of self-worth, hope for the future, and ultimately, the will to go on.

Nick was angry, suicidal, and a veteran with combat PTSD, who now says, “Horses literally saved my life.”

Inspired by her own childhood trauma when she spent seven days in a coma, awakened to a severely compromised body and brain, and rebuilt her life with the help of a horse, Michelle Holling-Brooks founded Unbridled Change, a non-profit Equine-Partnered Therapy organization that helps match horses to individuals in need. In her book THE HORSE CURE she shares amazing stories of the people she’s worked with and the “horse cure” that changed their lives. We had a chance to catch up with Michelle and ask her a little about her incredible organization and the dramatic life circumstances that led her to founding it.

 

TSB: What is the purpose of the organization Unbridled Change and why did you start it?

MHB: Unbridled Change is a non-profit mental health organization whose mission is to provide a place for our clients to find the hope, healing, and growth they have been searching for through the partnership of horses. The way we complete our mission to help our clients is mainly through providing Equine-Partnered Psychotherapy and Coaching. We take mental health therapy out of the office and into the arena or paddock with the horses.

The reason I started Unbridled Change was because I know firsthand the healing that can happen when you work with horses. Life can change in an instant and you can lose trust in yourself, others, and the world around you when it does. Sometimes when that trust is broken it can be hard to accept help from another human; however, we might be willing to accept support from an animal. Horses did that for me. They helped me “cure” myself on many different levels. I wanted to provide a space and program where I could share and others could experience what helped me learn how to heal.

TSB: In your book THE HORSE CURE you share the story of how you survived a dramatic illness, which left you in a coma for seven days, and when you did wake, you were faced with severe damage to your motor skills, vision, hearing, language, and understanding, as well as being paralyzed from the waist down. How did this traumatic event in your life prepare you for the role you now play as the founder of Unbridled Change?

MHB: I don’t think I would be who I am or doing what I do every day at Unbridled Change without that illness. The moment I was wheeled back into the barn and found comfort in a horse’s embrace was the moment my life purpose was born. By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew that all I wanted in life was to help others find the same sanctuary and healing that I had found with horses. I knew that the amazing impact horses had on me could also help others.

I think the experiences I had because of that illness also gave me another gift that took me longer to really understand. That illness gave me a gift of knowing and understanding. I know what it is like to feel lost in a body that will not respond. I know what it feels like to be left without a way to communicate what you need or want on even the smallest level. I know what it feels like to be so angry at the world that you end up feeling nothing. I know what it feels like to not want to be alive because the pain (physically and emotionally) is too bad. And I also know what it feels like to find your way back to willingness, connection, and love after all that pain. Horses gave me a lifeline through that wild sea of despair, pain, and trauma.

Now, as the founder of Unbridled Change, I can offer that same lifeline to our clients so that they too can heal.

TSB: In THE HORSE CURE, you share some of the experiences you’ve had with clients and the horses that are a part of the Unbridled Change herd. Why do you feel it is important to tell these stories?

MHB: I think the power of sharing these stories is that they give the reader hope. The stories let the reader see little bits and pieces of themselves reflecting back through the pages. I also feel that the stories and pictures in The Horse Cure give the reader the opportunity to feel and see what partnering with horses for human healing can really look like. By sharing these stories, we can take the mystery out of this type of therapy.

Hopefully these stories will open the door for more people to think about working with horses to help them heal.

TSB: You had your own experience with the healing power of horses, and now you’ve witnessed it again and again. What do you feel it is about horses that helps people struggling with trauma, loss, abuse, stress, and depression? Why are they such an integral part of the therapeutic process?

MHB: Horses are, by nature, sentient beings that want to be in relationship and balance with the world around them. When I was recovering from my illness at 13, I didn’t understand humans. They didn’t make sense to me because they would say one thing and do something different.

I felt at odds with the human world because most of the time nothing “matched.” I couldn’t trust it. But I could trust horses. They acted in alignment with the world around them. They didn’t lie to me. They didn’t judge me for being in a wheelchair or talking differently. They didn’t care that I had crazy frizzy hair, was too skinny, or about what I was wearing. They only cared and judged me on one thing: how did I treat them and myself. If I was willing to be trustworthy and respectful with them, ask for my needs fairly and without hurting them, I found out they actually wanted to be around me!

I think this natural trait is why horses are such great partners for the therapeutic process. People have the same basic desire to be a part of a “herd.” We, like horses, are not designed to be alone and without connections. Like horses, we also want to feel safe in that connection.

When you combine the therapeutic process with building a relationship with a horse based on trust, respect, and willingness, you have a way for the client to actually see their own patterns in relationships. In these interactions, the client has a chance to discover any “blocks” that might be preventing them from stepping into a healthy relationship. Additionally, they have the option to practice their skills by working through those blocks. The “therapy” then happens organically, in the moment based on the horse interaction and then processing with the mental health professional on the team.

You can read some of the many miraculous stories of horses helping humans in THE HORSE CURE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

 

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