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

Lessons I learned from a childhood experience with bullying

By Stephen C. Schultz The dew around the window was starting to bead up. In a classic case of chaos theory, the little beads of water gave way to gravity and randomly bounced and bumped their way to the window sill like a steal marble in a pinball game. There was a small pool of water in the cracked and peeling beige paint. I sat facing the window, staring at the small engraved stone nestled in the flower beds. There weren’t many flowers at this time of year. Mostly rhododendrons and Oregon grapes reaching skyward from the damp bark mulch that covered the planter area.   The month of January in Eugene Oregon was filled with days and days of mist and fog.   In fact, pretty much from October through June was filled with fog, rain, mist, showers, freezing rain and occasionally snow. The local weathermen didn’t bother with predictions about the chance of precipitation; they took pride in developing new adjectives to describe the type of precipitation and how much you can expect.

Perfectly Wicked - A new take on an old fairy tale!

Guest Blogger Amanda Schultz Age 15 There she was…hair as black as night, lips as red as blood, skin as white as snow. Standing by the window, washing dishes, whistling while she worked. Snow White. I shudder with disgust every time I hear her name. What kind of a name is that anyway? “Snow White”. Gahhh, it’s a name that practically begs to be made fun of. Yet, there she goes, frolicking around like she owns the Enchanted Forest. No. I’m the Queen. I’m in charge. My magic mirror was mistaken. I’m the Fairest of them all, not that sorry excuse for a princess. One bite from my poison apple and that air-head will be so ugly not even her mother could love her. And I will be the Fairest once again! I suppose that I should rewind a little bit. It wasn’t always a competition between Snow White and me. In fact, back in the day, we had a nice little system going on. I would rule the kingdom and practice my magic, while Snow did the dishes and tended the garden. She stayed out of my w

"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