Through an innovative partnership, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC) and David Lawrence Center (DLC) created the first equine-assisted psychotherapy services available in Collier County more than five years ago.
It began with adults in the Crossroads addiction recovery program and recently expanded to at-risk teens in the adolescent partial hospitalization program.
Equine-facilitated psychotherapy is a holistic, experiential form of therapy where participants work with certified equine specialists and clinical therapists to process feelings, thoughts and reactions using horse-related exercises.
Equine therapy is one of a variety of holistic therapies utilized at DLC to help people with mental health and substance use challenges learn new methods of tolerating stress and handling the hurdles of everyday life.
Holistic services such asyoga, meditation, fitness as well as equine, art, pet and music therapy supplement traditional treatment programs used in both inpatient and outpatient treatment settings and are done in partnership with community collaborations.
Equine therapy allows clients to step outside of the four walls of a group room, travel to NTRC’s beautiful, serene campus and participate in exercises with their herd of highly-intuitive “furry” cotherapists– opening them up to new possibilities.
Violet Acevedo lived in a constant state of anxiety over thoughts of past trauma and worry about the future. Drugs made it go away. While in the Crossroads residential program, she was able to participate in equine therapy and yoga which taught her mindfulness strategies that she uses daily to stay sober. The equine therapy helped bring her out of her immediate anxieties and concerns by focusing her attention on the horse.
Violet said, “The horse’s overwhelming size and the session’s activities to direct the horse through a variety of challenging exercises, forced me to focus on one thing – the horse– for an hour and half. My heart was racing. I was nervous, but the horse was so calm. Suddenly all of my feelings just disappeared.”
Through the exercises, participants develop self awareness, distress tolerance, an understanding of the importance of respect as well as a sense of unconditional positive regard and acceptance from these majestic animals.
Violet added, “My senses were back. I noticed the smells, the birds and little things about the horse. I was practicing mindfulness without even knowing it. I turned the worry switch off and the living switch on. For the first time in my life, I realized I was enjoying something.”
Horses are helpful and healing to people struggling with mental health issues because they are extremely sensitive to changes in the human being. Due to their sensitivity, horses react and respond to people differently based upon the person’s emotional state.
In addition to practicing the mindfulness strategies she learned through DLC’s holistic services, Violet is taking it one day at a time, attending weekly outpatient therapy sessions, and staying active in the recovery community.
Holistic therapies are not covered by insurance. DLC relies strictly on donations to fund these innovative, evidence-based wellness programs. The addition of the adolescent equine services was made possible, in part, through funding for DLC from the Stranahan Foundation and the Community Foundation of Collier County and for NTRC from the Naples Children & Education Foundation.
For more information or to make a donation, visit DavidLawrenceCenter.org or call 239-455-8500.