At-Risk Youth: How Equine Assisted Psychotherapy can help.

Trauma does not discriminate. Anyone and everyone is susceptible to experiencing a major injury or accident, natural disaster, devastating loss, witnessing or being victim of a crime, or experiencing neglect or abuse in our lifetimes. For children and youth whom have experienced multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the impact of the trauma in their lives is compounded. As a result, these children face greater risk of health and social issues as they move into adulthood.

These are the children people often falsely label as difficult, bad, and worst of all, hopeless. Some even believe them to be defiant, disengaged, hyperactive, unruly, social deviants, or delinquents.

These are often our youth in foster care, our youth in juvenile detention systems, our drop-outs, our teen parents, or our homeless teens. As they grow older they become labeled as our repeat offenders, our transients, our gang members, and our nation’s addicts. They have children of their own and the cycle continues on and on.

These youth often struggle in school. They sometimes get into fights, act impulsively, ignore consequences, and find it difficult to cope with stress. They are often distrustful of others, struggle with connection, and usually do not understand their own emotions or needs.

This leads them to have a greater risk of abusing substances, dropping out of school, getting arrested, and making choices that can negatively impact their lives forever.

But below the surface, all of them are just trying to survive in a world that feels like it is working against them. They are hurting, they are scared, and they have learned that they cannot trust others to meet their needs.

So what can we do to help? How do we break this cycle?

It’s simple. We take action.

As with any treatment, early intervention improves the chances for a successful recovery, and the most powerful force in recovery is connection.

For our at-risk youth it is no different. In fact, they need connection and support now more than ever.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy offers a hands-on experience for youth to build healthy relationships, improve social and communication skills, gain insight about the impact of their behaviors, and to learn how to self-regulate during times of stress and frustration. Unlike traditional horsemanship, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy does not teach youth how to care for, handle, or ride horses. Instead, services are always ground-based and focus on the client’s experiences during their interactions with the horses.

Services are led with a team approach by a licensed mental health clinician and equine specialist with one or more horses in each session. The team facilitates the session through using the client’s experiences in interacting with the horses to support the client in developing insight and finding their own solutions to their problems in order to drive change.

So why horses?

Horses are naturally attuned to threats in their environments and have evolved to sense danger and incongruencies in order to survive. In the wild, a horse needs to know if a predator in the field is hungry and on the prowl or if it has just eaten and the herd is safe to continue grazing. As a result, they have a keen sense to pick up on body language cues that symbolize intent. This skill is what allows horses to recognize when we are acting one way and feeling another.

As a result, the client and treatment team are provided immediate feedback regarding the client’s internal state and are given the chance to make changes right then and there that can help the client find congruence and awareness. With this insight, youth can build trust and begin to understand why they act the way they do and what they can do to change for the better.

Furthermore, for individuals who have experienced trauma and ACEs, it is often difficult to regulate emotion as the body remains in a chronic stress response of fight-flight-freeze. Unlike humans, horses are able to flee from danger one minute and resume a calm and peaceful state the next. They internally manage their stress in an efficient and healthy way.

Working with the horses using EAP and EAL provides clients an opportunity to learn how to reduce their stress responses through learning self-regulation from their interactions with the horses.

This means the youth can learn to react less and respond more. It can even help support their brain in rewiring for healthier functioning. This leads to improved problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they increase their executive functioning.

Even the most resistant youth tend to engage in this treatment as it offers novelty and does not put as much pressure directly on the client as traditional therapy. As a result, youth open up and real progress happens in less time.

So, what are you waiting for? Give us a call at 559-387-4367 today to schedule an appointment and start moving forward into your best life.

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