Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Interaction with horses helps ease mental health problems of some youth in New Zealand

From The Bay of Plenty Times in New Zealand:

Young people in the Western Bay battling depression and anxiety are among those reaping the benefits of weekly equestrian therapy sessions at Tauranga Riding for the Disabled (RDA).

Co-developed by Tauranga occupational therapist Gail Morley, the therapeutic care programme is designed to improve the self-esteem, confidence and self-belief among children aged 10 to 17 who are battling the challenges of mental illness.

Others face obsessive compulsive disorder, Aspergers and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Tauranga RDA chief executive Kat MacMillan said horses were successful in helping overcome mental illness.

"The people coaching are just a facilitator. Because it's a big graceful, potentially intimidating, animal it seems to stimulate the absolute natural reaction. If it's a fear they learn to overcome it, if it's empathy that may have been locked up, it suddenly triggers that empathy to come out. It cuts out all the nonsense that they've been using as self defence to protect their own feelings and they just get on with being who they really are."

The eight-week course covers topics including communication, relationships, responsibility, trust, independence, teamwork and achievement, finishing with a group dressage performance to music.

"It's amazing, the feedback we get from parents and the riders themselves is often fantastic," Ms Morley said.

The programme gives young people, who often struggle with behavioural and emotional problems, the chance to learn and experience being able to do and succeed at something independently.

"This course is designed to give these kids that feeling on a weekly basis while they're here," Ms Morley said.

In the second school term, Ms Morley and registered nurse Julie Jensen will run a programme called Girls Rule at Tauranga RDA which will use equine therapy to boost the self-esteem of six girls, aged between 12 and 14.

Ms Morley said the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association programme had been successful in America in helping treat eating disorders, addiction and with family violence survivors. The programme does not involve any riding or care of horses but uses interaction with the animals as a treatment for mental health.

All clients are referred to the programmes by Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.