The use of animals on campus is a powerful relationship changing modality and often a clarifying experience.
Because animals respond to the here and now, they provide great feedback and perspective in the therapeutic journey. With a skilled facilitator, animals can often be the catalyst that softens hearts that have been hardened and steeled because of trauma, self-doubt and discouragement.
While we are well known for our esteemed equine program, we are also developing renown for our canine rescue efforts.
Participants have an opportunity to see how they affect relationships in a unique way. The focus is on helping students develop, observe, and evaluate themselves by interacting with horses.
Through working with the horses, the girls are able to enhance important life skills, such as positive communication, trust, honest achievement, value congruent behavior, and anger management.
When students encounter a problem with a horse they are asked to approach the problem from the perspective of relationship, instead of just a horse problem.
Students ask questions such as “What is the horse telling me? What part do I play in this problem? What can I do differently?”
This approach helps our girls develop the invaluable proactive, self-evaluation skills with the benefit of almost instant feedback from the horses.
The Equine Therapy program is part of a set of rotating, therapeutic groups.
This group will focus on enhancing relationships with the self and others through the use of adventure and group therapy techniques. The horses act to facilitate learning about self, how we connect with others and how we use our influence to effect outcomes.
Through their behavior, horses can be a type of emotional mirror, where we are presented an opportunity to catch ourselves in the act of being our self. Students find this a richly rewarding experience that often leads to deep relationship growth.
The canine program is a powerful metaphor for lifesaving, and it is a tangible practice of altruism.
Depending on the number of students who choose to participate in the program, dogs are “rescued” from the local animal shelter.
The participants care for the animals, groom, play and train and feed them, all on their own time, often sacrificing what is most amusing or comfortable for what is most expedient. The dogs are listed in the local paper to be placed with families.
Sometimes students come to Greenbrier feeling misplaced, lost, helpless, abandoned or struggling to find self worth. It is an incredible transformative experience to know that their actions, caring for rescued dogs, are what has kept death at bay for another creature.
Additionally, almost everyone has had a positive experience with small pets, like dogs or cats. When students interact with the dogs, those old resourceful and positive feelings of innocence, loyalty, unconditional love and acceptance are rekindled.
After spending a few minutes playing with the dogs, students who are struggling can often find emotional and mental resources awakening and fostering growth.
This has been a powerful addition to the therapeutic model.