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Horses are being used in treating PTSD

Therapist using horses in treating PTSD

Staff writer

An individual may look healthy physically, but it's possible that, even without any physical manifestations, stress and traumatic experiences can take their toll on both humans and horses.

But, thanks to psychotherapy, horses and humans are interacting and bonding with one another to help each other heal.

This Sunday, soldiers who are stationed at Fort Gordon and have returned from their deployment in Iraq, and at risk members of the community, will have a chance to use a unique modality to help with their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychotherapist and horseman Suze Maze will be using Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) to help.

The therapy sessions will be conducted on Sundays at Equine Rescue of Aiken.

Maze learned about EAP while she was living in Kentucky through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning EAGALA model, and later became certified.

The name of Maze's business is Horse Empowerment.

Please understand that there is an increasing number of horse facilities joining in this treatment because of its effectiveness!!

The effects of long-term, recurring deployments can not only be seen in the workplace, but affect soldiers' family lives as well, said Maze, who previously worked with people who struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism.

"There is a need to accommodate the increasing demands of effective treatment modalities and diagnostics to help service members who've fallen through the cracks," said Maze. "Some are already plugged into the VAs and are getting adequate treatment, some are already plugged into Warrior Transition units and getting adequate treatment. It's the military personnel whose symptoms don't show up at first, and now, all of a sudden, they have PTSD, and they're not sure where to go. It's a needs-based program and as people come forth, we're here to help them."

The psychological health needs of military personnel, their families and their survivors pose a daunting and growing challenge, said Maze, who has ties to Aiken, as her husband was a soldier for 21 years and was stationed at Fort Gordon, for a time.

"I've always wanted to come back and work with the military," said Maze. "Equine Rescue of Aiken is a perfect match. We have horses who need healing and we have soldiers and people who need healing. I've noticed with my five horses that I've worked with, they all have their own style of therapy that they like to work with. One horse likes to work with people who have Attention Deficit Disorder, another works with those who have mental challenges; (the horses) migrate to people and people migrate toward them. I worked with civilians in Kentucky. We have a conscious mind, things that we're aware of, and we have sub-conscious and unconscious minds that come to life at night in our dreams and in our nightmares. The horses seem to be able to get at that innate sub-conscious and unconscious, and things the person being treated may not recognize. It makes people think outside of the box to come up with their own solutions."

EAP is an emerging psycho-educational treatment modality incorporating horses experimentally for emotional growth and learning based on the EAGALA model. EAGALA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which provides educational information and support to professionals for providing services in equine assisted psychotherapy, said Maze. EAGALA offers certification in this treatment modality, providing a high standard of professional and ethical practice, she said.

"Thorough carefully chosen activities, participants gain insight into their behavior by learning through doing," said Maze. "Horses provide immediate feedback, and this type of therapy includes all of the senses."

The classical therapeutic office model is taken out of context and placed in the arena with horses, allowing the patient to interact with the horses and a professional team with at least one licensed mental health professional and at least one horse specialist, she said.

The focus of EAP isn't riding or horsemanship; in fact, nearly all of the therapy takes place on the ground. EAP is a powerful and therapeutic approach, said Maze, who also emphasized PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

The objective of the program is to provide military personnel and those civilians undergoing treatment with a preventative safety measure. The hope is that the treatment modality will help service personnel make an easier transition from combat to garrison life, and increase coping skills, said Maze. EAP as a modality has the potential to create change in the moment and reduce the time required to produce results, through its experiential and hands on training environment.

For more information about Horse Empowerment, call (859) 421-5831 or 643-1850.

An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping
by Ashley B., II Hart

Down Range - To Iraq and Back
by Bridget Cantrell, Ph.D. and Chuck Dean

Courage After Fire:
Coping Strategies for Returning Soldiers and Their Families (Paperback)

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