Horses Helping Grieving Children

As a co-facilitator with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle, LLC and with my own private practice (Bridgewater Support Services, LLC) providing counseling services in Michigan through working with horses, I have had the privilege of working with children who are grieving for the past eight years.

This week, I was able to co-facilitate with my respected colleague, Stacie Johnson, LMSW, in collaboration with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle and Wellspring Lutheran Family Services at Camp Hope, for children with grief and loss issues, in beautiful Gladwin, Michigan.

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We were able to help children understand their grief process and understand the grief of their peers through an activity called “life’s little obstacles.”  The children were asked to create an obstacle course out of horse safe objects in the arena.  We chose to partner with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle’s wonderful horses, “Charlie” and “Tigger.”  The children were formed into groups determined by age and asked to get the horses through, over, or around the obstacle course.  There were rules placed in this activity, as there are rules in life.  These rules were that the children had to get the horses through this obstacle course without touching the horses, without talking, and without bribing the horses.  That is, without a “consequence.”  The children were able to choose their consequence.  We discussed consequences in their lives and how sometimes consequences are good, bad, meant to be followed, or defined loosely enough to creatively work with that consequence or around it.

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So, how can working on an obstacle course with a horse help a child who is grieving?

The children experienced the activity, working on their individual leadership skills and working as a team while interacting with the horses.  The obstacles became metaphors for grief and how sometimes we get stuck in our grief, grief can be long and complicated, messy, the grief process can be a confusing process that is not linear in direction, and can change based on our situations from day to day.  It can also look very different from person to person.  The children were able to learn that sometimes, we need the help of our peers strengths, the help of professionals, and sometimes, it is ok to pause and just sit in our experience and wait for anxieties and worries to pass in order to move forward.  Sometimes we set our goals too unrealistically with grief and sometimes just a step forward and acknowledging how far you have come, even if it is just a tiny step, can be pause for celebration and/or reflection.

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The biggest take away for the children this week was that sometimes our situation is difficult and trying.  We can not change our situation or the behaviors of those around us all of the time.  The one thing we do have control of is how we choose to respond to that situation.  It is ok to ask for help, it is ok to pause, it is ok to learn from others, and it is ok to celebrate little moments where we are able to move forward from our grief.  The children completed the camp by making memory pillows, memory boxes, through poetry, and many other activities with their peers and camp counselors.

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For more information on Camp Hope with Lutheran Family Services or grief programs for children with horses in michigan, please visit the following links:

 http://www.wellspringlutheran.com/home-care/hospice/camp-hope

http://www.bridgewatersupportservices.com

www.myklc.com

 

Overwhelmed Teens Need Support Too!

Teens today have many responsibilities and expectations within their family, school, and social lives.  With the changing world of increasing competition for college applications, reliance on social media, and an endless world of opportunity, it can be easy for teens to become overwhelmed.

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Teens and young adults can carry a tremendous amount of stress. Connecting with others, being supported, and working through emotions can be a helpful tool to reduce anxiety and depression.

Feelings of being overwhelmed, social isolation, inadequacy, lack of sleep, constant external stimulation from all our society is exposed to, among others can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. “Social isolation is the number 1 factor in depression,” according to Dr. Jim Sorenson, a clinical psychiatrist. This isolation seems to be increasing with the ever present use of social media, both parents holding employment, and bullying.  Depression and anxiety can be a chemical imbalance for some but for others it can be environmentally driven.  If left untreated and unsupported, these feelings can lead to suicidal ideation or thoughts of suicide.

With most households requiring both parents to work, teens often find themselves at home with friends playing video games or other stagnate activities, meanwhile, being outside is crucial for your mental health and well-being.

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“Research has confirmed that simply being outside with nature can boost peoples sense of well being.”

One option for teens to get outside, experience nature, learn skills, and receive support for their stress is called Equine Assisted work.  This type of work has many names including but not limited to;  equine assisted growth and learning, equine assisted learning, equine assisted psychotherapy, and equine facilitated mental health, to name a few.  This is a form of therapy, personal growth, or skill building that is solution focused and experiential in nature.  This opportunity is a non threatening, non judgmental approach to therapy or learning that allows the participant to connect with nature, look at our thoughts and behavior patterns, learn new skills, and then actually practice those skills through interactions with the horses to determine if those skills are transferable into their home, school, or social environment.

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Similar to a cognitive behavioral model of therapy, in order to fix problems and find solutions, we need to fix the problem with our feet and our brains. In equine assisted therapy or equine assisted growth and learning, we think about our behaviors and the precursors to our behavior and actually physically work through the steps to obtaining our goals or making changes.

Youth and adolescents face many challenges today and may be dealing with stressors and may need support.  For parents to help, just listening to your child can go a long way.  Make listening a daily occurrence so when there is an issue, your child has trust in your ability to support them bu listening. Active listening without judgement or interjecting expectations (easing up the pressure they are already under is helpful while setting healthy limitations).  Most importantly, don’t panic! You know your child best.  Be there to support them and help them find a balance in their situation. If you are interested in further support or to learn more about equine assisted work in Michigan, visit www.bridgewatersupportservices.com.

Article of reference: http://plymouth.wickedlocal.com/article/20140808/NEWS/140808700/12448/LIFESTYLE

Through the Eyes of a Horse

Equine Assisted Mental Health

Through the Eyes of a Horse

Bridgewater Support Services, LLC  is located in Southeast Michigan, Washtenaw County, and provides a unique opportunity by combining mental health services for adults, children and youth and experiential work with horses.  This process has many names including; equine assisted therapy, equine assisted coaching, equine assisted counselling, equine assisted mental health, equine assisted growth and learning, equine assisted psychotherapy, equine assisted learning, to name a few.  

Working with horses allows the client to seek mental health services in a non judgmental environment.  So, “Why work with horses?”  Bridgewater Support Services partners with horses due to their natural ability to be highly sensitive to emotions in their perception of those emotions and how they respond to those emotions.  Horses depend on this ability for their survival.

As intuitive beings, horses have the ability to sense and reflect our feelings and emotions, even when we might not be aware of them ourselves. In the therapeutic process, horses then become a mirror to reflect these innermost feelings and help clients discover solutions to their own issues or problems in a solution focused manner, meaning we believe the client has the best answers to their own issues, they just may need guidance and facilitation to find those answers.

Like Humans, horses are social in nature.  They also mostly communicate non verbally.  Horses have personalities, good days and bad, and within their herd, there is a power dynamic that make their interactions similar to our human interactions. Horses are honest and non judgmental.

The environment in which equine assisted work takes place is outdoor, in nature, which can be a helpful tool for clients who are uninterested in traditional forms of therapy that take place in an office setting.

For more information, visit www.bridgewatersupportservices.com