Not just horsing around … psychologists put their faith in equine therapies

In a Sussex field, a large bay horse is galloping around, tail held high. This magnificent creature is one of a new army of animals that is helping therapists to treat everything from addiction to autism to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reports last week showed that dogs, already known to be invaluable helpmates for blind, deaf, diabetic and epileptic owners, were also being trained to help dementia patients.

Now the psychological benefits of working with horses are being recognised by growing numbers of therapists who work with autistic children, young people with behavioural problems, adults with depression or celebrities with addictions.

“The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we’re only starting to realise how intelligent they are,” said therapy counsellor Gabrielle Gardner, of Shine For Life, watching the horse dance around his pen at a farm in Blackstone, a village a few miles north of Brighton.

“A lot of my clients start off being very nervous, so I wouldn’t always use such a big horse. One of the reasons I think equine-assisted therapies work so well is that everyone has a reaction to horses; nobody is indifferent. People either love them or fear them, so that’s two big emotions that immediately reflect what most of life’s issues revolve around. If you can work with an animal like this and overcome the fear, then it isn’t a bad starting point.”

Gardner has worked with all types of clients, including young offenders, and says a horse picks up on the way people are feeling, mirroring their emotions and responding. As a herd animal attuned to stress and body language, a horse will move away from an angry person, follow someone it trusts and be unsettled when it senses fear.

“It’s especially good for people who don’t take to talking therapies. Counselling is not a ‘one size fits all’. While you might forget a conversation you had with your counsellor a few weeks on, it’s unlikely you’ll forget what happened when you stood in a field with your counsellor and a horse. It’s not like patting a dog; it’s a big animal.”

Gardner, who runs sessions for clients alongside a mental health professional, says the sudden explosion in popularity of horse-based therapies has been helped by the success of the book and film War Horse and a TV series that saw Martin Clunes investigate our relationship with the horse. But another reason is the runaway success of the therapies in the US. Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala), a US-based organisation, trained 1,500 therapists in Britain in 2011. Coral Harrison, from Cumbria, is their regional coordinator for Europe. “We’re seeing hundreds of new inquiries, whereas a few years ago it would be a handful.”

Scientific research remains thin on the ground and the therapy’s effectiveness remains mostly anecdotal, although The Priory clinic offers equine-assisted therapies, while in the US equine-assisted activities and therapies have attracted celebrity clients including Robert Downey Jr and Sophie Anderton. American horse trainer Franklin Levinson is establishing a regular base for his courses in Dorset, working with troubled children.

“It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centred and focused when we are with horses,” he says. “Horses are naturally empathetic. The members of the herd feel what is going on for the other members of the herd.”

The Horse Boy Foundation – set up by Rupert Isaacson, who wrote a book about riding in Mongolia with his autistic son – is running a new programme of equine therapy camps this summer for autistic children and their families in Britain.

Such efforts have the tentative approval of mainstream scientists. Dr Nicola Martin, an autism expert at the LSE, said she thought anything that brought children and families together would have a positive effect.

“It’s certainly not about healing or curing, because autism is for life, but being out in the countryside, close to nature, doing something enjoyable like interacting with horses, has got to help families come together.”

In Scotland a charity called HorseBack UK is achieving tremendous results using horses to rehabilitate injured and traumatised members of the armed forces. Jock Hutcheson, a former marine, had retired to breed horses when he offered to take a group of former combatants riding. Self-confessed as “horse daft since I was three”, he said that even he hadn’t expected the horses to have such a huge impact. Last year he had 156 people through his Aberdeenshire centre.

He said the trick was offering “mobility with dignity”. He added: “Soldiers don’t make good patients and they don’t want pity, but we want to create a way for them to come back into the world again. The horses have had an enormous effect on them, empowering.”

Using animals as therapy is not new: the Greeks documented the horse’s therapeutic value in 600BC and French physician Cassaign concluded in 1875 that equine therapy helped certain neurological disorders. Dolphins were used in the former Soviet Union to treat nervous disorders and rabbits lower stress levels in American old people’s homes. By the 1950s British physiotherapists were exploring the possibilities of horse therapy for all types of disorders. The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1969 with the enthusiastic support of the royal family and the Queen still shows a keen interest in the work of Californian horse whisperer Monty Roberts, who has been working on bringing horses and troubled children together for several years.

Whether scientists will ever prove that they offer real medical value, our love of animals shows no sign of abating. As Churchill said: “There’s something, about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

The secret to avoiding weight gain: Don’t diet

Most people attempt a diet at some point in their life. Many of us are on one right now. However, new research says that dieting may be counterproductive and that, actually, the key is eating regularly.
I’ve been on and off of diets for approximately my entire adult life. Although I don’t consider myself overweight, I have a great deal more belly fat than I would like.

The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar affair, proving that I am not alone.

In fact, the vast array of dieting gadgets, books, and videos proves that there is no definitive solution.

Many factors that are involved in weight gain are understood — for example, we know that a sedentary lifestyle, consuming a lot of takeout food and sweet drinks, and smoking will cause us to pile on the pounds. However, there is still much to learn.

Is dieting the answer?

According to new research from the University of Helsinki in Finland, many of us are barking up the wrong nutritional tree; dieting is not the answer at all and, in the long run, it might even harm our chances of maintaining a healthy girth.

One of the researchers involved in the latest effort to understand the factors behind weight gain is Ulla Kärkkäinen, a licensed nutritional therapist.

She explains, “Often, people try to prevent and manage excess weight and obesity by dieting and skipping meals. In the long-term, such approaches seem to actually accelerate getting fatter, rather than prevent it.”

To reach this conclusion, Kärkkäinen and her team used data from the FinnTwin 16 study, which involves more than 4,000 young men and women.

Because early adulthood is a critical time for weight gain (as I know only too well), this group made an ideal study sample. The findings were recently published in the journal Eating Behaviors.

What factors influence weight gain?

The participants all completed surveys regarding dietary and activity habits and other life factors at the age of 24, and then a decade later when they were aged 34.

Across the 10-year period, the majority of participants gained weight — that’s life, I guess. Roughly one quarter of men and women managed to hold down a stable weight, and just 7.5 percent of women and 3.8 percent of men lost any weight.

How marriage changes you physically and mentally, according to science

Every summer, thousands and thousands of couples tie the knot.

That decision has lasting effects on their health over time.

Researchers have identified a variety of trends that show how getting married changes people. There has historically been an idea that marriage is good for your physical and mental health, perhaps due to the idea that having a supportive partner can make a person healthier. But more recent research has revealed that the relationship between marriage, health, and well-being is more complicated, with both benefits and drawbacks.

Evidence suggests that married men and women have a lower risk for certain types of heart disease than their single counterparts, for example, but married people are also more likely to be overweight.

Of course, these observed trends don’t hold true for everyone. Every marriage is different, depending on the individuals involved, their relationship, their plans, lifestyles, and more — without even counting external factors. And there’s much less research on the effects of marriage on same-sex couples so far.

But with that in mind, here are some of the ways that marriage tends to affect partners physically and mentally.

 Married people tend to have better overall health than other adults, even after controlling for age, sex, race, education, income, and other factors. But a large study published last year found those health benefits were mostly observable in older married adults. Among younger adults, married people essentially saw no overall health benefit compared to their unmarried peers.

Retirement complications: Beware of hidden taxes when the career ends

When you retire, you don’t want to pinch pennies. These are the 10 least tax-friendly states for retirees, according to GOBankingRates. USA TODAY

Social Security checks may or may not be taxed, depending on your income. You’ll pay federal income taxes on most retirement plan withdrawals, but additional state taxes depend on where you live. Tax rates on investments can vary as well.

Here’s what to expect when you hit retirement age:

Social Security taxes depend on ‘combined income’

Whether and how much of your Social Security benefit is taxed will be determined by “combined income.” That’s your adjusted gross income, plus any non-taxable interest, plus half your Social Security benefit. If your combined income is below $25,000 and you’re single, your benefit won’t be taxed. If your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may pay tax on up to half of your benefits. Over $34,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. For joint filers, the 50% range is $32,000 to $44,000, and the 85% range is over $44,000. The tax calculations are fairly complex so you’ll want to use software, or a tax pro, to figure yours.

 Note that you won’t lose half or more of your benefit to taxes. Instead, up to 85% could be subject to income taxes at your ordinary income tax rates. (There are currently seven tax brackets, ranging from 10% to 37%.)

State taxes could take another bite

In 13 states, you also could owe state income tax. Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia all tax Social Security benefits to some extent.

Seven states don’t tax income: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee tax only dividends and interest.

 Elsewhere retirement income may be exempt, partly exempt, offset by a credit or fully taxable. Sales, property and use taxes vary hugely as well. (Use taxes are imposed by counties and municipalities to fund public services such as libraries or fire protection.)

Anyone thinking of moving to a new state in retirement should thoroughly research the state’s tax laws, or ask a tax pro for help, says Melissa Labant, director for tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of CPAs.

Required minimum distributions may trigger higher taxes

At age 70½, you must begin withdrawing money from most retirement accounts. Required minimum distributions typically are taxed at your regular income tax rates. If you’ve been a diligent saver, these mandatory distributions could be big enough to push you into a higher tax bracket.

In some cases, it can make sense to convert some retirement funds to Roth IRAs in your 60s to avoid a sharp increase in taxes in your 70s, says certified financial planner Michael Kitces. A tax pro or financial planner could help you run some projections to see if this approach makes sense.

Home sales can cause unexpected tax bills

Selling your home — to downsize, free up equity or move to a new community — may generate a tax bill. If you’ve lived in your primary residence for at least two of the five years prior to selling it, you can exempt up to $250,000 of home sale profit from capital gains taxes (or up to $500,000 for a couple). Profits above that are subject to federal capital gains tax rates that range from 0% to 20%.

You also may owe a “depreciation recapture tax” if you took a home office deduction, rented out rooms or rented out the whole house. The depreciation you took or should have taken over the years is added back to your income in the year you sell and you’ll pay a maximum rate of 25% on it, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting.

If you’re planning on relying solely on your social security check for retirement, you may want to reconsider. Here’s why. Wochit

Beware of state estate or inheritance taxes

Federal estate taxes aren’t an issue for most people now that $11,180,000 per person is exempt. But 12 states and the District of Columbia also levy estate taxes.

Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia use the federal exemption amount, but Oregon and Massachusetts may tax estates worth $1 million or more.

The other states — Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — exempt varying amounts, says Bruno Graziano, senior writer and analyst at Wolters Kluwer.

Meanwhile, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have inheritance taxes, which may tax people receiving bequests. Consult an estate planning attorney if you might be affected, since you may be able to minimize taxes with the right plan.

How to find peace when you’re feeling under pressure

Why are people so stressed these days?

No doubt you’d roll your eyes at that question. After all, for most of us, stress is just as much a part of life as waking up every day.

Yet I hope you also pause – yes, pause – and think about it: how did life get so fast and relentless all of the sudden?

The day-to-day life you live may hardly afford you the time to breathe, let alone think. Maybe you work long days and late hours, without so much as an acknowledgement that you even exist.

Or maybe you constantly shuttle your kids from one activity to the next. School here, soccer there, ballet somewhere else, and somehow a karate class in there, too. You race home for a few minutes to eat dinner before heading to the next practice or event.

When you finally come home and fall into bed that night, you feel exhausted and on edge, like the day isn’t really over. We all need to know how to take a break from that stress, to give our souls a chance to stop and breathe.

See what I mean?

So how can you intentionally find peace in the middle of your crazy life without simply squeezing it in?

Here are three ways you can take a break from the panic of pressure-cooker living, and enjoy a more peaceful life each day.

Pause to Pray

You and I have a choice every day: to fret or to pray.

You can carry your concerns and try to fix them yourself, or you can cast them at the foot of the Cross – fully confident that God knows and cares about your troubles and fears, and that He is with you.

I suggest you take Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:6:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Pause to Praise

Did you notice in the verse above that Paul not only prayed, but he prayed “with thanksgiving”?

And did I mention he was also in a jail cell at the time?

When stress and worry start to overtake you, turn your eyes upon Jesus, as the old hymn goes.

If the apostle Paul could find reason for thanks in a jail cell, persecuted for his faith to the point of facing death, then we can find reason for thanks in the midst of our day.

There’s always something in every day to give him thanks for.

Look fully into the wonderful face of your Good Shepherd, and thank him for something today. Then watch your troubles grow strangely dim.

Pause to Gain Perspective

Whenever I feel myself starting to worry, I quote Scripture. This often occurs at night, when I’m lying awake and all the concerns of the day rush on me at once. But as I mull over God’s Word and remember his past faithfulness, I can pillow my head on hiis promises and sleep like a baby.

Train your thoughts, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9:

“If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you.”

As you hit the pause button to pray, praise, and gain perspective, you’ll learn to exhale all that ails you and breathe in God’s peace.

Your soul will find rest and revival – and your body will thank you for the break.

Welcome New Staff Member!

We want to welcome our new Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Kim Scardina, to our team!  Kim specializes in Play Therapy and will be a great asset; we are excited to be working with her!

Headshot edit and crop

See more about our staff here!

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is something that is experienced by everyone at some point of time in life. There is nothing abnormal when you experience anxious moments in your life. Anxiety will become a disorder when it crosses certain thresholds. Here are 12 indications that you’re having an anxiety disorder.

#1 – Lack Of Sleep

If you are not sleeping enough are feeling tired after you get up it could be an indication of an anxiety disorder.

#2 – Worrying Too Much About Trivial Issues

If you are wearing too much about small issues in life, this could mean that you are having a problem.

#3 – Experiencing Some Form Of Muscle Tension Routinely

Tension in the muscles without any attributable causes of physical activity can be one of the fallouts of anxiety disorder.

#4 – Poor Gut Health

Those who think too much are bound to have poor gut health, and this could be a symptom that something is wrong.

#5 – Lack Of Confidence In Social Interactions

If you are finding it difficult to be comfortable in social interactions, you need assistance.

#6 – Inability To Shed Inhibitions

Your inability to be confident in the midst of others, or shed your inhibitions could also be indicator of anxiety disorder.

 #7 – Frequent Panic Attacks

If you are given to frequent panic attacks for no particular reason, you need to be clinically assessed.

#8 – Repeatedly Going Back To The Past Are Self Pity Or Self Pity

A habit of trying to live in the past is a sign of anxiety disorder.

#9 – Excessive Fear Of The Unknown

Any irrational fear of the unknown in excessive levels is a symptom of having far too many anxious moments .

#10 – Obsessed With Getting Things Done Right

If you are striving to be perfect all the time, then it is a sign that you are obsessed with perfection because of your disorder.

#11 – Doubt About Ability Of Self Or Diffidence

Frequently doubting oneself about abilities or diffidence in taking up a task is another sign.

#12 – Clinically Proven Compulsive Disorders

If you have clinically proven compulsive disorders, it is a sign of other related anxiety disorders.

Suicide Awareness

No one is immune to suicide. But there is hope.

Suicide affects people from all walks of life, sometimes in silence and isolation. It can reach across social, political and economic lines.

That was the message Sunday on “Finding Hope,” a CNN special report hosted by Anderson Cooper that featured a panel of guests and audience members affected by suicide.
The recent deaths of CNN celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade are the latest reminder that suicide is a complex and growing crisis in the United States, where such deaths have gone up over 25% in the past two decades.
I lost my brother Carter to it. Glenn Close nearly lost her sister, Jessie. She got treatment, and both are here with us tonight,” Cooper said. “So is David Axelrod, whose father died by suicide, and Karl Rove, whose mother did. And Zak Williams, who lost his father, actor and comedian Robin Williams.”

Axelrod is a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama while Rove served in the same role in President George W. Bush’s administration.

“In one way or another, everyone here tonight in this audience and with me on stage has been touched by suicide, myself included,” Cooper said.

Words matter

Actress Glenn Close described the jarring moment her sister, Jessie Close, opened up about having suicidal thoughts.
“She said, ‘I need help. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.’ And I was taken aback,” Close said.
Close offered to help her and did, but said when she looks back, she realizes she never followed up to see if more support was needed.
While it’s important to offer our help to someone having suicidal thoughts, it’s also important to constantly check in and ask how they are doing, said the actress.
And it can’t be a one-time conversation, even if they say they’re OK, Glenn Close said.
Zak Williams reiterated that it’s crucial to reach out to people who are struggling and love them unconditionally.
Jessie Close said when she asked her sister for help, a voice in her head was repeatedly saying, “Kill yourself, kill yourself.” She urged those having suicidal thoughts that it’s their responsibility to ask for help.

‘My actions were different’

Former Navy SEAL Jimmy Hatch said his military friends saved him when he no longer wanted to live.
Hatch felt lost after an injury in Afghanistan ended his military career, and was going though a “transitional period,” he said. His military friends intervened when his wife ran out of options, and took him to a mental hospital.
“I wasn’t really crying out. My words were great, but my actions were different. And those guys who had been near me in gunfights and things like that, spent a lot of time with me in the past, they realized that in spite of my words, I was not well,” he said. “And they came and injected themselves into my life.”

Loved ones question why

Axelrod was in college when he heard that his father had killed himself. His father was a psychologist who’d helped countless of other people with suicidal thoughts.

“It was so heartbreaking to think that he could do that for others, but he didn’t — he couldn’t — reach out for himself. And I ask myself all the time, ‘Why?'” he said.
Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it’s normal for survivors to ask questions about what signs they missed or what they could have done.
Rove, whose mother died by suicide, wondered if there was anything he could have done to stop her death. At the time, his mother was going through a dark period, but she sounded like she was getting better, he said.
When it comes to suicide of a loved one, it’s easy to get stuck on how their life ended, instead of how they lived, Cooper said.
“My brother died by suicide nearly 30 years ago, and still not a day goes by when I do not find myself thinking about what happened and asking, “why?” he said.

‘It’s an illness’

Having suicidal thoughts should not be considered a stigma. It’s an illness that a doctor can fix if caught on time, Axelrod said.
“For 30 years after my father’s death, I never talked about it … I didn’t talk about it because I was impacted by the sense of stigma that somehow this was a blight on his character,” he said.

 The stigma goes beyond the issue of deaths by suicide.

Jane Clementi’s son, Tyler, had recently come out and was a target of cyberbullying when he died by suicide in 2010.
“Gay youth are also more likely to be bullied. And of course not all bullying situations end in the terrible circumstances that Tyler’s did — but they still suffer great consequences,” Clementi said.
Some of the bullying, she said, is a result of the stigma against gay people.
“I think if we could stop teaching that … being gay is a sin, I believe that most of the LGBT youth suicides would decrease or maybe even disappear,” she said.

Equine Therapy for (PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

For thousands of years horses have been mystical, magical creatures playing the role of transportation, gladiator, companion, entertainer and more. Now they are also playing the role of psychotherapy assistant through a discipline known as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) which is increasingly being used to treat war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs estimates that Post Traumatic Stress afflicts as many as one-quarter of the troops returning from the Middle East, or about 300,000 men and women.  The growing field of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is showing great promise in treating veterans and their families who suffer from the nightmares, anxiety, depression, anger, irritability and other debilitating effects of this invisible, yet very real disability.

Preliminary Studies Validate EAP for PTSD
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD has gathered the attention of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who has provided grants for practitioners to run equine assisted therapy groups with returning troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.   Preliminary results are favorable, suggesting statistically significant rates of change.

The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) also evaluated treatment of members of the Georgia National Guard where deployments averaged two years or more.  The study revealed that 100 percent of soldiers who completed therapy had dramatically reduced stress levels.

Animal-assisted therapy has shown evidenced-based efficacy in patients including war veterans with PTSD, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, and other chronic mental illnesses.

Why Horses?
According to Dr. Laurie Sullivan-Sakeada, a Utah based Clinical Psychologist and leading practitioner of EAP, horses are prey animals, and, like those who have been to war, rely on their heightened senses for survival.  They react to and mirror the emotions of visitors directly, without words.  Horses respond negatively to negative emotions.  They respond positively to positive emotions, and they have no ulterior motives.

“They are just there,” says Sakeada, “providing non-verbal feedback.”  The horses are therapeutic and interactive tools that speed up the therapy process substantially.  Dr. Sakeada notes that one session of EAP in the barn is equal to five sessions “on the couch.”

 Equine Therapy for Emotional Healing
In Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, horses are used as tools for military veterans to gain self-understanding and emotional growth.  It recognizes the bond between animals and humans and the potential for emotional healing that can occur when a relationship is formed between the two species.  In most cases, the horses are not ridden, and usually are not tethered in the arena, but allowed to roam free.  Exercises can be as simple as giving the client a halter, and letting them figure out how to approach the horse and put it on.

The learning and mastery of a new (horsemanship) skill–enhances patients’ confidence in their ability to tackle new projects, such as recovery, and leads to improved self-esteem.

Learning to communicate and achieve harmony with a large animal promotes renewed feelings of efficacy. A motivated “I can do it!” replaces feelings of helplessness, de-motivation, by empowering the person to take on new challenges in other areas of recovery.

Riding helps participants to develop a more realistic view of themselves through awareness of their size in relation to the horse. This is especially important in treating patients with eating disorders as well as those with interpersonal aggression problems.

Horses’ sensitivity to non-verbal communication assists patients in developing greater awareness of their emotions, the non-verbal cues that they may be communicating, and the important role of non-verbal communication in relationships.

Learning to trust an animal such as a horse also aides in the development, or restoration, of trust for those whose ability to trust has been violated by difficult life experiences such as physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect, or marital infidelity.

Through grooming activities and other types of care for a specific horse, patients are able to put aside the absorbing focus of their mental illness, such as depressive ruminations, and instead to direct their attention and interests outwardly toward safe and caring interactions.

Anxiety Reduction:
Many studies of human-animal interaction indicate that contact with animals significantly reduces physiological anxiety levels. Some patients are initially afraid of horses. But horses’ genuineness and affection allay these fears, helping patients to embrace exposure therapy for their anxiety issues.

Decreasing Isolation:
For many individuals with mental illness, there is a long-term or recent history of feeling rejected by, and different from, other people. Mental illnesses are intrinsically isolating experiences. The horse’s unconditional acceptance invites patients back into the fellowship of life.

Many patients are initially concerned that they will do something embarrassing while learning about or riding the horses. Yet patients quickly learn that the other participants are engaged in their own equine experiences, and they observe the comfort of the horses in their own skin. Fears of embarrassment in public are thereby often reduced and self-acceptance increased.

Impulse Modulation:
Particularly for those whose mental illness involves the experience of lost control over impulses, the need to communicate with a horse calmly and non-reactively promotes the skills of emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse modulation. Research clearly indicates that animal-assisted therapy reduces patient agitation and aggressiveness and increases cooperativeness and behavioral control.

Social Skills:
Many individuals with mental illness are socially isolated or withdrawn. A positive relationship with a horse is often a first, safe step toward practicing the social skills needed to initiate closer relationships with people.

Communicating effectively with a horse requires the rider to demonstrate assertiveness, direction, and initiative; important skills that enable the patient to express their needs and rights more effectively in other relationships.

Many patients have experienced prior relationships as controlling or abusive. Healing takes place as patients discover that riding occurs within the context of a respectful relationship between a rider and a horse, and that, although physically powerful, each horse typically operates within the boundaries of this mutually respectful relationship.

Creative Freedom:
Many persons with mental illness have been emotionally inhibited or over-controlled, and have lost some measure of spontaneity. The playful aspects of riding and team equine activities can help restore spontaneity and ability for healthy recreation and play.

1,200 Pounds of Lie Detector
Jennie Hegeman, an equine rehabilitation specialist as well as a professional horse trainer is another proponent of EAP for PTSD.  She is creator of The Hegeman Method, a patented, cross-discipline equine bio-kinetic training and rehabilitation method based on the muscle structure and bio- mechanics of the horse.  She has worked with Dr. Sakeada in treating children with physical, emotional and mental disabilities at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah.

Ms. Hegeman refers to horses as “1,200 pounds of lie detector.”   Her role is to interpret the horse’s body language, such as flicking ears, wide eyes, or a dropped shoulder that will provide feedback for the therapist and the veteran.

So Why Horses?
Horses also possess a variety of “herd dynamics” such as pushing, kicking, biting, squealing, grooming one another and grazing together.  In the process of describing the interactions between horses, clients can learn about themselves and their own family dynamics

De-Stress in Nature: The Mental Health Benefits of Connecting With the Great Outdoors!

For millions of Americans, the search for remedies to stress can seem counterproductive. Stressors such as money, work, and our current political climate are difficult to escape, and when we do find a remedy, the real struggle is developing the discipline to stay with it. For anyone struggling with symptoms of mental illness, the above-mentioned stressors can often feel unmanageable, and relief from those stressors – elusive.

But, there are methods of alleviating stress that require little effort and can be found in your backyard. The benefits of nature have been with us from the dawn of our species, though it slips our mind as we are absorbed in a world of flashing gadgets and blaring televisions. Let’s start with the basics.

Take a Walk

Seriously! Hit the pavement and get moving. Walking for 30 minutes a day has shown to make people happier, as the brain releases chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. These are the same chemicals released after a workout, similar to “runners high.”

It can also decrease blood pressure and prevent unwanted fat build up. A meta-analysis reported by Harvard Medical School “makes a strong case for walking. In all, walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31%, and it cut the risk of dying during the study period by 32%. These benefits were equally robust in men and women.”

Why drive to your friend’s house half a mile away when you could walk? As a mental health professional, I encourage clients to take walks, if it suits them, after experiencing a trigger. This allows them to clear their mind and re-center themselves. This in conjunction with deep breathing and mindfulness allows for a calmer state of mind.

Get Near the Water

It’s all around us!  Whether you’re located near a coast, by a lake, or a garden with a fountain, being near water has shown to decrease overstimulation. Similar to the results of walking, salt water is helpful in decreasing depression by elevating chemicals like tryptamine, serotonin, and melatonin. These chemicals allow for better sleep and a healthier mental state. If you live near the sea, you may have noticed the calming effect water has on the mind. Studies have shown that people who live near coastlines are generally happier.

According to a Live Science article, the “slow whooshing” sound of moving water has a naturally calming effect on people.  These soothing sounds can also help you fall asleep. “Although the sounds of crashing waves can vary considerably in volume, with quiet intervals followed by crescendos, the waves’ hubbub smoothly rises and falls in intensity. That’s in stark contrast to a scream or a ringing phone suddenly piercing a silence, reaching peak loudness almost instantly.”

Slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people,”

Take time for yourself and practice mindfulness near water, breathe deeply, focus on your inhalation and exhalation – all this in conjunction will help relieve tension.  If you live far from the ocean, consider finding a garden nearby or a park with a fountain. If you’re located by a lake, spend time on the shore using these techniques.

The Forest

Another tool in the therapist’s arsenal is the woods. According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, exposure to forests boosts our immune system. The clean air of the forest is loaded with antibacterial chemicals called phytoncides. Upon inhalation, these chemicals trigger the production of white blood cells, which kill tumors and viruses. Studies have also shown that being around trees lowers blood pressure and elevates mood.

For many people with mental illness the stigma can be overwhelming. Having time to oneself with the sounds of the forest is an opportunity to replenish self-esteem, decrease feelings of sadness, and elevate mood, without a dozen eyes on you pushing for normalcy. Because of the profound effects the forest has on a wound-up mind, it’s recommended to spend time there when you feel frayed. So if you live near the woods, set time aside for yourself or a family member to take a hike or casually stroll through the calm of the forest.


There is something about being in the mountains that promotes healthy living. Most people who have spent time at higher altitudes have experienced a sense of rejuvenation and peace. There’s less pollution, which supports a healthier respiratory system. The changing colors of fall, the calming silence, inspirational scenery – these all elevate mood and buttress happiness. Higher altitudes also support the cardiovascular system and help burn calories faster.

There has long been speculation that something about the quality of life in mountain regions increases longevity for human beings.  According to a research report by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, people living in “counties above 1500 meters had longer life expectancies than those within 100 meters of sea level by 1.2–3.6 years for men and 0.5–2.5 years for women.”

These methods of de-stressing by getting closer to nature should be considered on a person-by-person basis. Nature does provide an array of calming, mood-elevating effects. These approaches to connecting with nature can be discussed with your therapist or doctor if you or someone you know is currently seeking mental health treatment. Find what’s best for you based on your location and individual circumstances.