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.


Summer Heat and Human Behavior

It is now a well-known fact that weather conditions impact on how people feel and function in their daily lives. In some cases the weather affects physical and emotional health.

During the winter months it’s called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Gray skies, snow, cold temperatures and a lack of sunlight, because many people to feel depressed during the winter months. These same people experience a boost in mood with the advent of spring and its increasing amount of sunlight and warmer temperatures.

At present, during the summer of 2012 there is an intense heat wave covering much of the United States. This has caused alarm among the health and mental health community. There are a host of heat related illnesses that are seriousness enough to result in hospitalization and death. Among these are dehydration, heat stroke, increased blood pressure and many other illnesses.

There are also some serious mental health issues that result from the heat. This is evidenced by the fact that there is an increase in psychiatric hospitalizations during the summer months. There is also an increase in suicide attempts, acts of violence, increased irritable and angry mood. Hot weather also causes people to feel tired and unmotivated to do very much.

There are many types of medications that make it necessary for people to remain in air conditioned environments. For example, for those who take anti-psychotic medications, the sensitivity to heat is increased. There are other medications that make it necessary to limit exposure to sunlight, particularly for those who want to go to the beach. Whether medication is for psychiatric or some other health problem it’s essential that patients consult with their physician about the side effects of heat and sunlight.

Older people, especially those who are 65n years of age and older, are especially vulnerable to the impact health has on health and mental health.

Generally, it is recommended for all of us to drink a lot of water or other liquids to prevent dehydration. Some of the drinks recommended for athletes are a good idea. It’s a good idea to limit coffee and alcohol because they tend to dehydrate. If it’s necessary to go out, wearing a hat is a good idea as well as going out during the morning or evening when temperatures cool and the sun is not intense. For those who must work outside, consult your doctor about how best to protect your health during a heat wave.

Stay cool, both physically and mentally.


Horses, Autism, and Healing

Horses don’t see a child with autism. They see a child.

When Rachel was seven, her mom, Lynn, took her to three different child therapists for what she called traditional talk therapy. Rachel hated it and, after a while, refused to go. Most of the time, Rachel was simply unable to sit still. Although there are no drugs that can cure autism, Rachel was periodically put on medications — including Haloperidol, Thioridazine and Fluphenazine (all antipsychotics) and Carbamazepine (an anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer) — in the hope that one of them might improve some of her everyday functions. Lynn said, “It was like there was something inside her that kept making her move, which she couldn’t turn off.”

The first time Rachel arrived at the horse farm, her equine counselor Sherri led Rachel over to a large gray horse named Alfie. Rachel stopped about two feet in front of Alfie and looked up at his soft, dark eyes gazing down at her. After about a minute, Rachel lifted her hand toward Alfie’s nose. Alfie dropped his head and sniffed Rachel’s fingers. Rachel quickly pulled her hand away, turned, and walked toward the gate. Alfie followed her.

When she got to the gate, she turned back and was amazed to see Alfie standing right behind her. Sherri walked over, looked at Rachel, and said, “Alfie likes you.” Rachel’s mouth opened in an overwhelming smile. As Lynn told me this, she became emotional and said, “I had never seen Rachel smile like that before in her whole life. She could tell that Alfie was interested in her and that it didn’t matter to him that she was autistic.”

Horses are naturally curious. Their curiosity is often motivated by the possibility of finding something that might feel good, taste good, or be fun to play with. Once they know they are safe from predators or anything that exhibits predatory behavior, their apprehension or fear of any person, place, or object turns into curiosity. Rachel was nonthreatening and had offered her hand to Alfie; he had investigated and smelled it, and then she had simply walked away. Alfie had become curious and followed Rachel.

Horses reveal their thoughts and feelings with their body language and behavior. They do not ask, demand, or expect anything from us. They want to feel safe, comfortable, and get along. When Rachel experienced this with Alfie, it was unlike any interaction with another person she had known. Lynn said that Alfie showed Rachel that she could trust him, and if she could trust him, one day she might learn to trust people. As Rachel continued at Good Hope Farms, she started interacting with other girls and their horses.

Horses don’t see a child with autism. They see a child. Autistic children know this, and it feels good to them. In order for anyone, autistic or otherwise, to grow, heal, and have positive relationships with others, they must first have a positive relationship with themselves. Horses have the ability to make humans feel good about themselves.

Autism is now considered the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States. Some of the most enlightening discoveries about the healing effects horses can have on people with autism are revealed in a book entitled Animals in Translation by Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University.
Dr. Grandin’s findings in the field of animal-human relationships are not only remarkable, they’re transformative. Some of her most compelling research is found in the similarities between horses and people with autism. It is based on Dr. Grandin’s firsthand knowledge, as she herself is autistic.

Dr. Grandin reports that there is often a special connection or identification that occurs when an autistic person begins to interact with a horse. She points to a possible basis for this, stating that both horses and autistic people think in pictures, not words or verbal language, and both are hyperspecific. Whether it’s a horse or a human, we are both powerfully attracted to that which is most familiar.

As with so many other men, women, and children, horses have enabled some of those with autism to become more confident, more trusting, and to feel, even if only for a moment, love for themselves and others. When an autistic child feels the unconditional acceptance from a horse, I believe a small part of their soul is healed


How Dogs Can Help with Mental Health – Mind Boosting Benefits of Dog Ownership

An amazing 95% of us see our dogs like family, and it’s not hard to see why that is the case. For thousands of years, we have lived side by side with them, and they have become an integral part of life for so many of us.

Similarly, a good number of people suffer from mental health issues, and it can be hard to go through it alone – hence we have dogs in our lives. As someone who suffers from crippling anxiety that affects my everyday life (amongst other mental health stuff), the comforting presence of my dog throughout each day has been a constant I never truly knew I needed until he appeared in my life.

It’s because of him that I am able to get out of bed every morning and face the day – because he needs me to do these things for him in order to live a happy life, and my husband works odd hours so I am the only one who can do it.

With him, I have comfort at all times, and the knowledge that he is only ever a stretch of my arm away if I need to pet him. The thing is, dogs can be the greatest boon to our mental state, and in many ways, they allow us to live a life that is a little more normal and structured than it would be without them.

There are so many ways that they can benefit your life, each of which can give your mental health the boost it needs such as: Improve your Health, Lifestyle Changes, Mental Health (Depression, Anxiety, Bi-polar, Stress, OCD, BPD, Autism), helping Children and the Older People.


Managing Stress

Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes it can help you focus and get the task at hand done. But when stress is frequent and intense, it can strain your body and make it impossible to function. Finding effective ways to deal is crucial to living well.

How Stress Affects You

Stress affects your entire body, mentally as well as physically. Some common signs include:

  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Jaw pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed

When experiencing long-term stress, your brain is exposed to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol. This exposure weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.

Stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of your mental illness. For example, in schizophrenia, it can encourage hallucinations and delusions, while in bipolar disorder, it can trigger episodes of both mania and depression. Knowing what situations cause it is the first step in coping with this very common experience.

When You Are Most Vulnerable To Stress

People are most susceptible to stress when they are:

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Not having a network of support
  • Experiencing a major life change such as moving, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, having a child or getting married
  • Experiencing poor physical health
  • Not eating well

Everyone has his own threshold. Certain things that may upset you out might not even make one of your friends raise an eyebrow. Some people are affected when they experience large crowds and noisy environments, while others react to silence and free time.

Ways To Reduce Stress

Developing a personalized approach to reducing stress can help you manage your mental health condition and improve your quality of life. Once you’ve learned what your triggers are, experiment with coping strategies. Some common ones include:

  • Accept your needs. Recognize what your triggers are. What situations make you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can avoid them when it’s reasonable to, and to cope when you can’t.
  • Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
  • Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
  • Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
  • Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, go to the movies, get a massage or take your dog for a walk.
  • Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
  • Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
  • Talk to someone. Whether to friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help. Consider attending a NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group.

Getting Help

If the steps you’ve taken aren’t working, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. He or she can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them.


Mental Health Tips for a Happy Summer

Summer break is a time for fun, family, and vacations. For college students, it can also be a time of stress. It’s not that they have to worry about major projects or deadlines or final exams anymore. It can be stressful because you often go from living alone to back in your parents’ house and rules. You are also separated from your new found friends and often times, at a loss for something to do. If this is you, one area that you need to maintain is your mental health. If you are finding yourself a little stressed on your time off, check out these tips for mental health all summer long.

Reconnect With Loved Ones

The summer can sometimes be a bit boring for those coming home from college. Try to use this time to reconnect with family that you have been away from, and friends that you may not have seen in a while. Plan trips, perform activities, and just meaningful time for these people again. Staying connected on a personal level with others can sustain and even improve your mental health.

Get a Job

One of the worst things you can do for your mental health is to be sedentary. We are just not made to be inactive. Do yourself a favor this summer and get a job. You might meet some new people, you’ll keep yourself busy, and as a great bonus, you’ll earn a little money for spending or saving for college next year.


Whether or not you exercised during the semester or not really doesn’t matter. If you were, then don’t let your routine fall by the wayside. If you weren’t, exercise can be a great way to boost your mood. Hit up the local gym to find deals on memberships for college students. By summer’s end you will not only have a better body, but a healthier mind as well.

Get Professional Help

Don’t forget that getting help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength! If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out for assistance. Family, friends, or the help of a professional can go a long way in helping you maintain your mental health. Don’t be afraid of seeking out help for treatment or even just for prevention.

Don’t let the summer break become a source of stress in your life. Use these tips to stay healthy and happy and to enjoy your break all summer long.


We wanna give a BIG THANK YOU to Allstate Insurance for donating us $1,000 to Mended Hearts Stable Inc. Thank You to Jami Renfrow and her Allstate team for thinking about us at Mended Hearts!

Relationships and communication

Good communication is an important part of all relationships and is an essential part of any healthy partnership. All relationships have ups and downs, but a healthy communication style can make it easier to deal with conflict, and build a stronger and healthier partnership. We often hear how important communication is, but not what it is and how we can use good communication in our relationships.

What is communication?

By definition, communication is the transfer of information from one place to another. In relationships, communication allows to you explain to someone else what you are experiencing and what your needs are. The act of communicating not only helps to meet your needs, but it also helps you to be connected in your relationship.

Communicating clearly in a relationship

Talk to each other. No matter how well you know and love each other, you cannot read your partner’s mind. We need to communicate clearly to avoid misunderstandings that may cause hurt, anger, resentment or confusion.

It takes two people to have a relationship and each person has different communication needs and styles. Couples need to find a way of communicating that suits their relationship. Healthy communication styles require practice and hard work, however communication will never be perfect all the time.

Be clear when communicating with your partner, so that your message can be received and understood. Double check your understanding of what your partner is saying.

When you talk to your partner, try to:

  • set aside time to talk without interruption from other people or distractions like phones, computers or television
  • think about what you want to say
  • be clear about what you want to communicate
  • make your message clear, so that your partner hears it accurately and understands what you mean
  • talk about what is happening and how it affects you
  • talk about what you want, need and feel – use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I need’, ‘I want’ and ‘I feel’
  • accept responsibility for your own feelings
  • listen to your partner. Put aside your own thoughts for the time being and try to understand their intentions, feelings, needs and wants (this is called empathy)
  • share positive feelings with your partner, such as what you appreciate and admire about them, and how important they are to you
  • be aware of your tone of voice
  • negotiate and remember that you don’t have to be right all the time. If the issue you are having is not that important, sometimes let the issue go, or agree to disagree.

Non-verbal communication

When we communicate, we can say a lot without speaking. Our body posture, tone of voice and the expressions on our face all convey a message. These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel about them.

If our feelings don’t fit with our words, it is often the non-verbal communication that gets ‘heard’ and believed. For example, saying ‘I love you’ to your partner in a flat, bored, tone of voice, gives two very different messages. Notice whether your body language reflects what you are saying.

Listening and communication

Listening is a very important part of effective communication. A good listener can encourage their partner to talk openly and honestly. Tips for good listening include:

  • keep comfortable eye contact (where culturally appropriate)
  • lean towards the other person and make gestures to show interest and concern
  • have an open, non-defensive, fairly relaxed posture with your arms and legs uncrossed
  • face the other person – don’t sit or stand sideways
  • sit or stand on the same level to avoid looking up to or down on the other person
  • avoid distracting gestures such as fidgeting with a pen, glancing at papers, or tapping your feet or fingers
  • be aware that physical barriers, noise or interruptions will make good communication difficult. Mute telephones or other communication devices to ensure you are really listening
  • let the other person speak without interruption
  • show genuine attention and interest
  • use assertive statements like ‘I feel …. about …’, ‘What I need is…’
  • be aware of your tone
  • be prepared to take time out if you are feeling really angry about something. It might be better to calm down before you address the issue
  • ask for feedback from the other person on your listening.

Improving communication in a relationship

Open and clear communication can be learnt. Some people find it hard to talk and may need time and encouragement to express their views. These people may be good listeners, or they may be people whose actions speak louder than their words.

You can help to improve your communication by:

  • building companionship – sharing experiences, interests and concerns with your partner, and showing affection and appreciation
  • sharing intimacy – intimacy is not only a sexual connection. Intimacy is created by having moments of feeling close and attached to your partner. It means being able to comfort and be comforted, and to be open and honest. An act of intimacy can be as simple as bringing your partner a cup of tea because you can tell they are tired
  • being on the same page as your partner. It’s important that you and your partner are both in agreement on key issues in your relationship, such as how finances are distributed, what key goals you have and your parenting styles.

To improve the way you communicate, start by asking questions such as:

  • What things cause conflict between you and your partner? Are they because you are not listening to each other?
  • What things bring you happiness and feelings of connection?
  • What things cause you disappointment and pain?
  • What things don’t you talk about and what stops you talking about them?
  • How would you like your communication with your partner to be different?

If possible, ask these questions with your partner and share your responses. Consider, and try, ways to communicate differently. See whether the results improve your communication. When you are more aware of how you communicate, you will be able to have more control over what happens between you. While it may not be easy at first, opening up new areas of communication can lead to a more fulfilling relationship.

Some things are difficult to communicate

Most of us find some experiences or topics difficult to talk about. It may be something that is painful or makes us feel uncomfortable. For example, some people find it difficult to express their emotions. It is often the things that cannot be talked about that hurt the most.

If you are having difficulty expressing yourself, or talking with your partner about something, you might find it helps to talk to a counselor.

Managing conflict with communication

  • Avoid using the silent treatment.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Find out all the facts rather than guessing at motives.
  • Discuss what actually happened. Don’t judge.
  • Learn to understand each other, not to defeat each other.
  • Talk using the future and present tense, not the past tense.
  • Concentrate on the major problem, and don’t get distracted by other minor problems.
  • Talk about the problems that hurt your or your partner’s feelings, then move on to problems about differences in opinions.
  • Use ‘I feel’ statements, not ‘You are’ statements.

Seeking help for communication issues

If you can’t seem to improve the communication in your relationship, consider talking with a relationship counselor. Counselors are trained to recognize the patterns in a couple’s communication that are causing problems and to help change those patterns.

You could also consider doing a course that is relevant to your relationship. It is better to act early and talk to someone about your concerns, rather than wait until things get worse.


How Horses Help Kids with Emotional & Behavioral Issues

A kind of magic happens when a desperately unhappy child is brought to the country to interact with horses. A change of environment, especially from an urban area to open, natural surroundings, filled with fresh air and flooded with sunshine, can have an uplifting and calming effect, and with time, a troubled teen can begin to let go of a lot of pent-up, negative emotions.

When teenagers first arrive at an equine program, they are often withdrawn and angry. Their relationships have been negative – but the relationship they will experience with a horse will be completely different from any other. Horses and other animals are completely honest in their encounters, and for many teens this will be the first interaction they have ever had in which they can honestly be themselves.

Equine-Assisted Therapy is an experiential therapy that is particularly effective with children and troubled teens. Horses are naturally social animals with personalities, attitudes, fears, and moods, and they are very sensitive to the energy around them. They will respond appropriately to human interaction, allowing teens to experience a sense of connection and participation without the negative feelings sometimes associated with traditional therapy. Horses and teenagers are seeking the same feelings of trust and connection, and once a child realizes this similarity, he or she is able to form a connection that is uplifting and inspiring. Horses are able to teach teenagers about themselves and their interaction with others around them.

A horse will react with fear to any expression of anger, bullying, or frustration, functioning as a mirror in which a teen can immediately see the effect of their emotions and attitudes. Horses have no guile or deceit – they respond negatively to negative emotions, positively to positive emotion. They do not respond to bullying, yelling, or aggression, and this forces teens to find other ways of communication. Because horses are non-judgmental, do not have an agenda, and are always honest, it is much easier for teenagers to let down their guard and recognize their own dysfunctional behavior. When teenagers work with horses, they are able to gain insight into their emotions and behavior and have a non-threatening opportunity to immediately find a more productive, positive way of interacting.

Each time a teenager learns another skill, his or her self-confidence and trust increases. Teens learn how to control and redirect their anger because they have a stake in the outcome – they do not want to upset or hurt a horse they have come to care about! The intrinsic innocence of the horse reinforces the need for teenagers to identify other ways to express their emotions to achieve positive, productive results. When a teenager encounters a horse’s behavior that confuses them, they must learn how to put themselves in another’s place and try to figure out what the horse is experiencing – and then find the most efficient way to proceed.

Horses are large, very powerful animals, and they can be unpredictable and intimidating. Approaching, interacting, and mounting a horse forces a person to confront any fear and insecurities they may have. Teens will learn how to keep their fear under control, how to remain calm, and how to move forward with positive feelings despite any underlying lack of confidence. They will also discover the exhilaration of horseback riding, especially if fear has prevented participation in physical activities in the past. The ability to remain calm and complete a task regardless of self-doubt and fear is an extremely empowering experience. Once a teenager gains insight into how to effectively work with a horse, he or she will become the leader. This causes the horse to feel a sense of safety and trust, and it allows the teenager to experience their abilities and potential. Teenagers will discover a significant sense of self-esteem as they continue to work and communicate in harmony with the horse.

Learning how to care for and ride a horse increases the bond between the rider and horse. The more consistent the teenager is, the more attentive and cooperative the horse becomes. In this way, teenagers learn life skills, such as effective and positive communication, trust, and how to control their anger and frustration.

The kind of relationship humans have with horses is calming and often healing. Teenagers become engaged in this unique interaction, and it brings them out of their inner cycle of negative thoughts. Working with horses may be the first time for some teens that they have ever experienced an emotionally powerful bond of affection and loyalty that is unconditional. Teens learn how to be responsible – and how being responsible can make a person feel good. Experiencing this kind of unique, inter-species bond can have a life-changing effect.