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Commentary: Equine therapy is a resource for those suffering from mental health issues

Steve Driscoll (copy)

Steve Driscoll

As we continue to grapple with the dangers and disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, we also strategize how to get back to a semblance of our former routines.

In the process, we consider the work we have lost, the drastic changes in education at all levels, the social seclusion many undertake, the unmet recreational opportunities, religious services that went unattended and the medical appointments of a nonemergency nature we postponed or canceled.

Consider, as well, a host of other close interpersonal contacts with family and friends that were set aside in the interest of mutual safety.

The primary focus was to establish what we hope would be a short-lived scheme of behaviors that would enable our community and country to weather the vicissitudes of the unrelenting requirements structured to keep all of us out of harm’s way.

Foremost was our avoidance of most interactions within the medical field.

As such, annual check-ups were canceled, many on-going issues were handled by phone or computer conferencing, and elective or non-emergency surgery was put on hold. Dentist visits were also necessary casualties. It was paramount to remain distant from possible viral contact and not tax the medical resources focused on responding to the demands of the pandemic.

Most of us understood this and appreciated the diligence and courage the medical practitioners exerted in responding to the care of the patients afflicted with the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, mental health issues could not be put off and some became exacerbated by strictures of the crisis.

One resource that remained continuously active during this time is Lowcountry Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy.

LEAP, a nonprofit, is a therapeutic resource for men, women and children who are suffering from PTSD, transition and integration issues, anxiety and addiction or relationship problems.

Most LEAP patients are military veterans or active duty service personnel. This is because many veterans have tried face-to-face therapy but have been unsuccessful in resolving their problems. Others are active or recently separated military personnel who are reluctant to access traditional health services because of a self-perceived weakness or stigma.

LEAP’s approach is nontraditional in that horses are used as a metaphor. Breakthroughs in improving emotional well-being using this approach are scientifically proven and documented. This is because horses offer a safe reflection and compelling feedback for fears and anxieties current and former military may be facing.

A skilled treatment team and the horse’s unique sensitivity to human stress can help clients understand their own internal process far more readily than hours of talk or pharmaceutical interventions.

Moreover, when dealing with horses, clients can better understand the dynamics of their own family, military unit and community. This provides another positive model for collaboration, support and trust.

The transference metaphor, consequently, allows individuals to embrace their own strengths and overcome perceived obstacles in a nonthreatening environment. Essentially, the stigma of therapy is removed.

LEAP remains active and vibrant during these stressful times. This therapeutic process continues because it is accomplished with a modest amount of human interaction that can be structured within COVID-19 safety guidelines.

LEAP is located at 1847 Bugby Plantation Road, Wadmalaw Island. The executive director is Dr. Kathleen G. Broughan, whose email address is KBroughan@LEAPinSC.org. More information can be found on the website, LEAPinSC.org.

Steve Driscoll is an educational consultant, the commander of American Legion Post 147 on James Island and is on the LEAP Board of Directors.

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