Behavioral health patients are taking equine therapy in stride
NOTE: This is the second part of the two-part series on equine therapy.
David Rosenker had over 30 years of experience in mental health, including designing and directing addiction programs for adolescents and 20 years at the renowned Caron Treatment Centers. But after the death of his father, Rosenker felt he had to make a change.
“My father said if you don’t love what you’re doing in life then quit.”
Despite his desire for change, Rosenker still had a passion for helping others confront their behavioral health issues. So instead of leaving the healthcare field altogether, he took his career in a different direction and started Herd By A Horse.
Herd By A Horse is an equine assisted therapy facility located in the Reading, Pa. area that treats patients who have experienced substance abuse, trauma, communication issues and other mental health issues.
David and his staff treat a variety of patients at his Sinking Spring, Pa. location by pairing a patient with a team that always consists of a mental health specialist, an equine professional and a horse.
According to David and years of research by EAGALA, which certifies equine therapists and of which David is on the board, equine therapy helps patients because they often perceive less barriers when working with horses.
As opposed to traditional therapist/patient relationships, patients feel more comfortable communicating with a horse for a variety of reasons. Children, who may already have communication issues with their parents, see horses as less of a threat than another adult.
So children and adults frequently relate to the horses more easily by projecting their specific problems onto the horse, which creates an empathetic kinship between patient and horse.
For some treatments, patients are asked to create an obstacle course for the horse that metaphorically represents their own personal obstacles. They are then instructed to lead the horse through their obstacle course.
“We gave a kid this task and at one point in the course the boy stopped for 15 minutes and didn’t move,” David said.
The patient petted the horse as they both stood still. Finally, the horse nudged the child with its head.
David said the child told them, “The horse told me to get unstuck.”
Herd By A Horse treats patients with a variety of problems, and David said they are in the process of getting certified by EAGALA for treating veterans returning from overseas. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
David Rosenker has been working with adolescents and adults since 1976. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Addictions Program, and Alvernia University with a B.A. in Business Administration.