Monday, 29 August 2011
Horse Therapy Programs for Troubled Youths
The Bexar County Juvenile Detention Treatment Center is trying out a new approach using horse therapy to help troubled youths. Every week for two months, a group of 8 teens made the 60 mile round trip from the Detention Center to Natalia for Equine Therapy, just west of San Antonio where they learn about themselves while working with horses.
"They're very tough boys, they're very macho. Most of them have gang affiliation, and issues with trauma, abuse and abandonment," Tamara Lamprecht Vasquez, Clinical Supervisor for the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Treatment Center explains. "To get them out here softens them. They shed that hard exterior and show their true personalities which they have spent years hiding."
Most of the teens have never spent time around a horse. As 17 year old Jesus said "Wow! These animals are so big. I have never been around horses. I've seen them but never been this close."
The teens do not ride the horses but meet at ground level as equals learning about interacting with these large powerful animals with the observation and guidance of a mental health therapist. How they approach horses is has a direct link to how they approach people and challenges in their lives. They learn from that how the horses respond to them. Horses are herd animals. They experience the same kind of feelings. Through them the young men see their own problems and find ways to deal with them.
"I am learning to calm down by counting to ten. I'm developing coping skills especially in dealing with my anger because I was an angry child," Jarvis said. "It helps me put myself in somebody else's shoes. I understand what it's like to see my anger through something else. The emotions they have are kind of the same emotions that we have," said Jesus.
"When horses are around a lot of people, they tend to get frustrated, same as me. When I'm around a lot of people, I tend to get frustrated," said 17 year old Jarvis who feels the Equine therapy is helping him learn to get to grips with and channel his frustration in a less aggressive fashion.
When one of the horses kicks out, outside of the fence in sudden anger, both 17 year old Jaime and his horse are thoroughly startled. Jaime reacts equally angrily and storms off, refusing to have any participate any further. A counsellor asks the group, what they think is going on with Jamie at that moment, and encourages them to really get to grips with what they think are the underlying reasons for the behaviour. Walach goes on to explain to them, "Bottom line he got scared. Jaime took the whole situation with the horses personally even though it had nothing to do with him." The therapists then worked with Jaime then went on to work with the therapists to learn how to control his anger.
In this way Vasquez says they learn from the horses and each other. It helps them "To pull out that inner self and have that insight and be able to take that back home and work with their families and their futures." 17-year-old Jarvis agrees. "I've learned how to use the skills I learn from this place to benefit me. It was a privilege for me to come out here. This would be a wonderful experience for kids of all ages to come out here."