SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL TRAUMA REALIZE THE HEALING POWER OF HORSES
Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center partners with Central Kentucky Riding for Hope
on innovative program that needs financial support to continue
Lexington, KY (February 16, 2012) – “Beautiful.” “Balance.” “Strength.” “Friend. “I trust you.” These are just a few affirmations written in chalk that appeared last fall on the shiny coats of the horses of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope (CKRH) at the Kentucky Horse Park. The words were written by survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse who participated in a unique pioneering collaboration between CKRH and the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.
Called the BRCC/CKRH EAST Group, the innovative experience built upon the existing eight-week BRCC Building Blocks Group curriculum and provided equine-assisted skills experiences that capitalize on the long-established horse-human bond to promote healing. The name EAST (Equine Assisted Survivors of Trauma) fits perfectly with the collaboration's objective to provide survivors of sexual violence a new day filled with hope and promise.
The program resulted from CKRH’s desire to expand its mental health programming at its facility at the Kentucky Horse Park and BRCC’s commitment to offer cutting-edge healing opportunities to survivors of sexual violence.
Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) are based on a team approach by individuals who are licensed and credentialed in their respective professions. The pilot EAST Group therapy team consisted of Lee Ellis, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a therapist at BRCC; Leigh Koetsch, B.A., a crisis counselor at BRCC; and Charlotte Easley, a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at Asbury University who is interning at CKRH. Easley, who graduates in May, had interned at BRCC last year; with the support and encouragement of CKRH Program Director Denise Spittler, she approached Ellis and Koetsch about the collaboration. The four women worked enthusiastically to create a brave new model for healing and hope in Central Kentucky while realizing the potential power of the partnership – both inter-agency and with the equine.
“When Charlotte first approached me with the idea of a collaborative group to maximize healing for sexual trauma survivors, I immediately knew that it would be a fantastic way to enrich healing through the unique strengths of both BRCC and CKRH” Ellis said.
Easley, who has specialized training and certifications to provide equine assisted learning and psychotherapy, explained the program: “All EAST sessions consisted of non-mounted activities where group members partnered with their horses to complete tasks designed to put the skills learned in BRCC’s Building Blocks group into practice. The Building Blocks Curriculum was developed by BRCC and has been used successfully for group work many times. We just understood that adding the equine component would take the results to the next level.”
Over eight weeks, participants met as a group for the BRCC psycho-educational component, Building Blocks, and met individually with their therapists. Once a week they gathered at CKRH for the EAST Group, which combined psycho-education, skills building, and equine-assisted learning to create a personal journey of therapeutic healing. From walking to the field to catch and halter their horses to meditating, from serpentine walking to grooming, survivors participated in exercises designed to assist them in working through common symptoms of trauma, such as trust issues, relationship challenges, hyper-vigilance and post-traumatic stress.
Results of the initial program
Equine-assisted activities and therapies have been documented to be an effective experiential approach to emotional and intellectual growth. Based on pre- and post-surveys of the inaugural EAST Group, participants improved their coping and relational skills and reduced their traumatic symptoms by 33%. Responses included:
- “I gained confidence in my ability to handle stress.”
- “I feel calmer and more confident in how I handle my relationships.”
- “It helped me make relationship connections.”
In addition, participants gained confidence in working with horses and in their abilities to interact successfully with their horse and others:
- “I feel more confident in how I read people and relationships and learned from the horse about the signals I send.”
- “I learned a lot from group and the work with the horses. I think my horse made the difference.”
When asked about the value of the combined group and the ability to better manage emotions, symptoms and interpersonal relationships, the overall consensus was that adding the equine component enhanced the therapeutic process for clients:
- “The personality of my horse matched mine so well; he taught me so many things I could not have discovered on my own.”
- “Animals and music cut through the layers of my defenses faster than anything else – awesome combination.”
“Watching our participants develop and heal through their relationships with their horses is something I’ll never forget”, says co-therapist Koetsch.
These results have encouraged continued collaboration between the two agencies in a commitment to provide the best possible services to survivors of sexual trauma in Central Kentucky. However, financial support is needed for the program to continue.
CKRH and BRCC need your help
CKRH (www.ckrh.org), which was founded in 1981, is dedicated to enriching the community by improving the quality of life and the health of children and adults with special physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs through therapeutic activities with the horse.
The Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center (www.bluegrassrapecrisis.org) provides free counseling, therapy and advocacy to survivors of sexual assault and abuse, adult survivors of sexual abuse, and anyone impacted by sexual violence. In keeping with that mission, the EAST Group is offered to participants free of charge; however, the program needs financial help to continue. For BRCC and CKRH, the cost to provide a two-hour session for up to eight people is approximately $660. Therefore, both organizations invite businesses, individuals and others to support a person or a session at the cost of $660 OR sponsor an entire group for $3,300.
With financial assistance, BRCC and CKRH will be able to continue a fantastic program that provides proven support and healing to survivors.
“The EAST Group is a place where survivors can continue their unique healing journeys with state-of-the-art services,” said CKRH's Spittler. “It is a place where survivors can feel free of judgment – where they can open up and feel safe wearing their heart on their sleeve. However, when their sleeve isn’t big enough, our hope is that future participants will have the opportunity that members of this pilot group had: to share that journey and their hearts with a 1,500-pound friend who is full of love and has so much to teach us.”
BRCC Interim Director Stephanie Hume added, “It is important to us to continue this collaboration, as it provides such a crucial service to survivors of sexual violence that cannot be found anywhere else in our community.”
For more information on how you can financially contribute to the EAST Group, please contact Pat Kline at CKRH at (859) 231-7066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For general information about the EAST Group, please contact Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center toll-free (800) 656 – HOPE (4673).