At Courageous Hearts Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning Center in Milford, a horse is not a horse of course. Rather, the equine team at the 38-acre Iona Farms facility is charged with becoming whatever a client needs it to be depending on what issues a client is working on, such as abuse from a parent or depression.
Equine assisted psychotherapy and learning revolves around role play and the animals' ability to react to a client's emotions and mannerisms, and vice versa. A therapy horse could be "Mom" to one client and "self-confidence" to another. It all depends on what a patient needs to work on or learn, and it is up to them to give that horse an identity.
That's why Courageous Hearts co-owners Rosemary Baughman, a licensed clinical social worker, and Linda Muncy, an equine specialist, do not give out the horses' actual names, sexes, breeds or ages. There is also the risk of having a horse's established identity match a client's fear, for instance, the horse having the same name as a client's abuser.
Baughman and Muncy planned for years on how to combine their expertise in the medical field with the equine field to offer an alternative type of therapy to residents of southern rural Delaware. They are also Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association certified.
Courageous Hearts, which formed last summer doing local demonstrations at fairs and expos, received its first paying client in March and has served about 70 clients so far.
"We saw a gap in mental health services for the underserved populations in rural Delaware, so we wanted to offer an alternative to traditional services that we researched thoroughly before training and certification," Baughman explained. "This is a module that really works well. We've seen the proof with our own eyes, session after session."
Courageous Hearts also recently received a $1,000 grant from the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Sussex Launching Committee for two parenting workshops held the past two Wednesdays. Future workshops will include a teens' group for those at risk for suicide and violence prevention in mid- to late-August, another parenting group in August and a women's retreat on Oct. 26.
The facility offers both group and individual therapy sessions for patients with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, behavioral disorders, relationship counseling and more. The equine assisted learning programs offered, which are based on the same principals, are available to individuals, schools, corporations, businesses and other groups looking to enhance various aspects of their lives such as self-confidence or team-building skills.
While the one- to two-hour individual sessions can cost around $175 each, many insurance providers will cover the cost of therapy sessions, and Courageous Hearts is willing to work with a patient on an as-needed basis. Baughman said interested participants should call to discuss specific situations and pricing.
Page 2 of 2 - Baughman and Muncy create scenarios reacting to everyday life in a non-threatening manner. "We facilitate in a manner that we observe the horse's mannerism and client's responses as well as reverse and make observations to the client and then process further as connections are made," Baughman said.
For example, during a painting therapy session, a patient was instructed to illustrate her depiction of happiness on one side of her therapy horse. During the painting, the horse remained calm. The patient was then instructed to depict something frightening on the opposite side. As she painted a lightning bolt, the horse would swing its head backward, almost as if in protest. The patient made the observation that the horse could feel how upset she was, but in other cases such an observation could be made by Baughman and Muncy. Then the patient could move forward in addressing that issue and handling it in a manageable way.
"All the emotions that are coming up with people come up with the horses, too," Baughman said. "There is not a strict agenda. People learn what they want to learn and what's important to them."
It's up to the patient whether or not they're going to listen and feel the difference, Baughman said.
"People have their answers inside them and it comes from their spirit," she said. "Sometimes they just need assistance tapping into it and this team has been very effective."