Southern Alberta ranch uses animal-assisted therapy to support mental health
A Southern Alberta farm that offers animal-assisted therapy has expanded with a new indoor facility, and while it was all fun and games for its opening, the issues that counselors work with are no laughing matter.
From trying to overcome sexual assault to addressing past trauma and abuse, the challenges are many for those who come to the Blue Rein Ranch.
READ MORE: Equine Assisted Therapy
“We call it animal-assisted therapy because we don’t just use horses, we use other animals dogs and so on as well,” said Marvin Vandenhoek, counselor and owner of the Blue Rein Ranch.
While not new, this form of counseling has grown in popularity.
“The whole intent of the program is to integrate the animals into the therapy process for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD,” Vandenhoek added.
“It often creates an environment where people feel more comfortable dealing with their challenges and it’s a different setting than an office.”
WATCH: Horses, pigs and llamas used as therapy at Kelowna sanctuary farm (September, 2018)
The ranch just opened a new large indoor arena, an addition 13-year-old Bekah Vanee is excited for, as she’s been visiting the ranch for the past year.
“We went to mental health [treatment] in Lethbridge for years, she battles depression, anxiety — everything,” said Bekah’s mother, Tara Vanee.
Bekah also has PTSD, after she was hit by a drunk driver eight years ago and was airlifted to hospital in Calgary. She has undergone several surgeries since, and amid the hardships, this brave young girl turns to the animals that help her the most.
“Animals have feeling like humans, so when you’re feeling sad, animals know you’re feeling sad, so they’ll come to you and they’ll calm you down, and they say what’s going on and they pat you and just kind of calm you down,” Bekah said.
There are four therapy horses on location along with several dogs. Clients can interact for a one-hour session with one of these animals.