If two students are having a conflict because they misread each other's cues, equine therapy is a concrete experience they can refer back to, applying the lessons in real-life situations at school.
Black Mountain, NC (PRWEB) February 21, 2009
At an all-boys therapeutic boarding school nestled in the woods of western North Carolina, teachers and therapists aren't the only ones making a difference in the lives of struggling youth. In recent weeks, an unlikely companion has become the talk of the campus: horses.
Stone Mountain School specializes in helping pre-adolescent and teen boys with learning differences or disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improve their social skills, achieve academic success, and become contributing members of their families. Because many students struggle with verbal communication and social cues, the school's staff has found equine therapy to be an ideal match.
By contracting with Horse Sense, a national provider of equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning services, Stone Mountain School is able to provide its students with a unique opportunity to learn body language and social cues from an unbiased source: a horse.
"In many ways, communicating with horses is less complicated than socializing with people," says Micah Wheat, the field supervisor at Stone Mountain School. "Horses are straightforward creatures that give immediate feedback. If you're getting too close, a horse will let you know by walking away or refusing to move. The very nature of horses makes them an ideal companion for young people learning to understand nonverbal communication."
Once a week, Horse Sense staff brings the horses to the Stone Mountain campus and shows small groups of students how to accomplish tasks with the horse such as walking across a field, playing games, and communicating commands. The principal focus is on developing five life skills: respect, boundaries, impulse control, and managing and controlling emotions.
"Horses pick up on the body language and emotion of students, which helps the students learn to express their own emotions as well as read the emotions of others," explains Leigh Uhlenkott, MS, LPC, NCC, LMHC, the clinical director at Stone Mountain School. "Rather than focusing solely on their own internal feelings, equine therapy encourages students to also evaluate how their behaviors impact those around them."
Young people with ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities learn most effectively through hands-on experience. "We are always looking for creative ways to help our students improve their social skills," says Wheat. "These boys can't simply sit in a classroom and theorize about social cues, posturing, and personal space. They need to see it, hear it, and do it."
Horse Sense has an excellent track record for being extremely safe and well-managed and for achieving immediate results. Because of its experiential and active outdoor nature, equine-assisted psychotherapy has proven more effective in a shorter period of time than many other therapeutic interventions. The Horse Sense equine specialists and mental health professionals are trained in working with resistant or reluctant students, never engaging in power struggles or forcing the students to participate if they're unwilling.
In just a few weeks, the equine therapy program has become one of the students' favorite parts of boarding school life. Both teachers and therapists have noticed that students are more engaged in the educational process, have a better understanding of social interactions, and have made dramatic improvements in teamwork and relationship-building.
"The boys are eager to take part in the equine therapy program and are just giddy to be up close and personal with the horses," says Wheat. "Many have never interacted with a horse before so the experience is unique and different and a nice break from the routine of the day."
The lessons learned during equine therapy sessions are then taken back to school to be practiced and processed. "We draw a lot of metaphors between interpersonal relations and the human-horse interaction," notes Wheat. "If two students are having a conflict because they misread each other's cues, equine therapy is a concrete experience they can refer back to, applying the lessons in real-life situations at school."
Parents are also invited to experience equine therapy firsthand with their child as part of a two-day parent seminar. By learning to interpret body language and establishing a relationship founded upon mutual respect, both students and their parents leave the equine therapy session with a better understanding of one another's needs and methods of communication.
Equine therapy is just one component of Stone Mountain's "combined approach," according to Susan Hardy, the school's executive director. "We know that young people with learning differences thrive in environments that combine counseling, structure, small classrooms and individualized academic support, green time, a healthy diet, exercise, medication, and family support. In isolation, these components make minimal differences, but when systematically and holistically integrated like pieces of a puzzle, this approach ensures that every opportunity and resource is available to our students."
Stone Mountain School is a SACS-accredited, state-licensed, year-round therapeutic boarding school for boys ages 11-17 with emotional, behavioral, and learning issues such as ADD, ADHD, and nonverbal learning disorder (NLD). Set in rustic western North Carolina, the school blends outdoor adventure trips, a nationally standardized academic curriculum, and weekly individual and group therapy to help students achieve academic and personal success. Since 1990, Stone Mountain School has helped boys build their confidence, strengthen their relationships, and take charge of their futures.
Stone Mountain School is a proud member of CRC Health Group, which offers the most comprehensive network of specialized behavioral healthcare services in the nation. With the largest array of personalized treatment options, individuals, families, and professionals can choose the most appropriate setting for their behavioral, addiction, weight management, and therapeutic education needs. CRC Health Group is deeply committed to making its services widely and easily available to those in need, while maintaining a passion for delivering the most advanced treatment available.
For more information about Stone Mountain School, please call (888) 631-5944 or visit http://www.stonemountainschool.com. For more information about CRC Health Group, visit http://www.crchealth.com or call (877) 637-6237.
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