Skip to main content

The Healing Touch

Guest Blogger
Jennifer C. Jones

Sherry Sheffield has been a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for almost a decade. But she’d never seen anything like what happened in the horse arena at Discovery Ranch.

Ashley (not her real name) struggled with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The 16-year-old was literally looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places, all the wrong ways. In a desperate attempt to stop their daughter’s destructive behaviors, Ashley’s adoptive parents placed her at Discovery Ranch.

“Ashley loves horses” Sherry recalls, “but her mother is terrified of them. We were doing an activity in the arena with about six free-running horses. Her mother was increasingly anxious and frightened. She finally said she would just step back near the fence and observe.”

For the students, the object appears to be to move the horses, without using a rope and without force, through a designated obstacle course. No verbal communication is allowed.

Raul Willard, equine specialist and therapist says, “It’s not the completion of the task that’s important. It’s the process that’s involved. In that process they start connecting the dots to themselves.”

And that is where the change began for Ashley. The child who had never been able to give or accept affection from her parents saw the fear in her mother’s eyes as the woman hovered near the fence, away from the pounding hooves.

That’s when Ashley did the unexpected. “She worked her way to her mother and put her arm around her,” Sherry remembers. “She just stood by her side, helping her feel safe.” Then Ashley took her mother’s hand and slowly the pair inched closer, one step at a time, to the animals.

“Ashley stayed by her mother’s side, holding her hand and helping her, throughout the entire activity,” Sherry says. “There was so much emotion, so much love in that touch. It was a bonding, healing moment.”

“Even though her adoptive parents had been very loving and supportive, because of Ashley’s abuse and neglect as a young child she was unable to physically or emotionally bond.”

“Ashley feels at home with horses because it’s not nearly as scary to connect with animals,” Sherry explains. “She felt safe enough to reach out and show that she cared.” Sherry used powerful memories of those feelings in Ashley’s individual and family therapy sessions. As parents and child talked about the experience they began to remove barriers to trust.

“Experiential therapy like the equine activities is what we do,” Sherry explains. “And because we do so much more of it here we create more opportunities for these kinds of experiences to occur.”

“These types of moments are so rewarding,” she says. “To see families come together like that, healing broken relationships. I love being a part of that.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Fishing...It's really about relationships!

By Stephen C. Schultz Spring is in the air and that well known feeling of wanting to get out of the house and go fishing is surging through my body. I found myself in a sporting goods store the other day perusing the fishing lure isle. I was in the yard after mowing the lawn and realized I was walking around my small 12 foot fishing boat that is still covered from winter. I have had people ask me over the years, "What's so fun about fishing?". They usually follow that question up with, "It's so boring!". From my perspective, they couldn't be further from the truth. Fishing represents so much more than being entertained. It's time in the wilderness with fresh air and solitude. It's time to think and ponder on life's problems.  It time to express gratitude and count your blessings. There is also the satisfaction of reading the water, observing a hatch and placing a lure or fly in the perfect spot. It's the excitement of the fish

An Open Letter to Parents Researching RedCliff Ascent

By Stephen C. Schultz "We will be known forever by the tracks we leave." Having been raised in Oregon, I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage year’s steelhead fishing the coastal waters, climbing the Middle Sister in the Cascade Mountain Range, drifting the McKenzie River and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I have mentioned to friends, family and colleagues on many occasions;   “From a therapeutic standpoint, there is no better place to have a student’s issues manifested quickly than in a wilderness setting.” The question then becomes, “Why do therapeutic issues rise to the surface in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program like RedCliff Ascent ?” Throughout the years of teenage development, most teens spend a lot of time with friends. These friends think the same, dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music and sometimes get into the same types of trouble. Some teens also develop patterns of communication and ma

"Sugar and Spice" - A Child's Kindness

By Stephen C. Schultz I recall a childhood rhyme that went something like this; “…sugar and spice and everything nice…that’s what little girls are made of!” As the father of three daughters and one son, there is no doubt about the truthfulness of that saying. I was in San Diego a couple of weeks ago with my family. We were down at Seaport Village right on the bay having lunch. It was a beautiful day, sun shining, light breeze and we were eating on an outside deck. We were engaged in a conversation about what we wanted to do later that day when I noticed my youngest daughter, a fifth grader, was focused on something else. So, I turned to see what she was gazing at. She was following the movements of a transient man who had walked up onto the deck and was systematically searching the garbage cans for food. He was looking in each receptacle and reaching in to move the contents around. At one can, his hand came out with a partially eaten sandwich of some kind. He reached back