Copper Canyon Academy Expands Equine-Assisted Therapy Program at Its Boarding School for Girls

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The use of equine therapy in the therapeutic boarding school setting helps defiant teen girls develop compassion, empathy, and better communication skills.

We quickly recognized how effective this form of therapy was for young women, especially girls who had shut down all communication with their parents or other authority figures. They became more open and willing to communicate, the first step in changing their negative behavior patterns.

Copper Canyon Academy has expanded its equine therapy program, a highly effective component of their therapeutic and recreational programs for troubled teen girls. They have added three new barns to accommodate the growing program, as well as new paddocks and horses.

"We began using horseback riding in our therapeutic program a few years ago," says Tammy Behrmann, Executive Director of Copper Canyon Academy. "We quickly recognized how effective this form of therapy was for young women, especially girls who had shut down all communication with their parents or other authority figures. They became more open and willing to communicate, the first step in changing their negative behavior patterns."

Teens with emotional and behavioral issues can be difficult to work with. Most of them are slow to trust adults, and may be unwilling to trust anyone at all. In addition, if the emotional or behavioral issues are caused by abuse, the child could be angry and prone to emotional outbursts. Cognitive therapy that includes an equine-assisted program can be of great benefit to this type of teen.

Linda Cathcart, M.A., who has been a counselor at Copper Canyon for 10 years and has had training in Rational Emotive Therapy, Reality Therapy, Art Therapy, and Drama Therapy, has been chosen to run the newly expanded equine therapy program.

"Horses are prey animals," says Linda Cathcart. "Their life literally depends on their finely tuned perceptions of emotion and intent. They scan their environment constantly for danger. They 'read' incongruence instantly and give immediate feedback in the form of fight or flight. As a 'co-therapist' they give both the primary (human) therapist and the client invaluable information that the human might never access on her own."

Many physiological and psychological benefits have been documented in people during interactions with animals. These include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning, and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-esteem.

Counselors at Copper Canyon have found that teen girls who ordinarily shun physical and emotional closeness with other people can often accept it from a horse. The child-horse bond can develop mutual trust, respect, affection, empathy, unconditional acceptance, confidence, responsibility, assertiveness, communication skills, and self-control. Effective communication with a horse involves patience, understanding, attention, forgiveness, and consistency - abilities that any young person will find useful throughout their life. Equine therapy creates a new version of traditional transference: the teen develops empathy for the horse and also learns many lessons they would not accept from a parent or other adult.

An example of this might be when a horse is being stubborn. The teen soon discovers you can't force an animal that large to do something it doesn't want to do. They have to develop effective skills to get the horse to respond to their signals. However, the horse also needs to be properly taught what is expected of them when any particular signal is used. The teen may recognize, through this experience, the frustrations they and their parents feel when they disagree about important issues in the teen's life. They are learning that communication is a two-way street.

Copper Canyon Academy, a boarding school for girls located in Rimrock, Arizona, specializes in educating teen girls ages 13 to 17. Copper Canyon Academy offers a comprehensive therapeutic program, a challenging fully accredited academic program, a structured residential component, and a strong physical fitness program with the goal of providing each student the ability to develop self-esteem, self-awareness, self-reliance, self-confidence and self-management. If you would like to learn more about Copper Canyon visit http://www.coppercanyonacademy.com or call 928 567 1322.

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