A New Brunswick mental health counsellor is taking her therapy sessions to the paddock.
Kerri Gaski, who owns Coverdale Counselling and Consulting, said she is using horses on her farm in Dawson Settlement to help her clients overcome their mental health struggles, including symptoms of stress and anxiety.
“It is really something that we do for folks for whom traditional talk therapy or other modalities haven’t been great and they need something that is going to be really engaging,” said Gaskin, who became certified to conduct equine-assisted psychotherapy in 2019.
Gaskin said she works alongside an equine specialist whose role is to make sure the clients and the horses work together in a safe and calming environment.
“They are not getting on them, they are not riding them. You know, it is about their emotion,” said Wendy Hudson, an equine specialist who often works with Gaskin.
Gaskin said being in the presence of the horses unbridles people’s innermost thoughts and fears.
“They are non-judgmental, they live in the moment,” she said.
She said equine-assisted therapy has been shown to lower a person’s heart rate and stress hormone levels.
“Your stress production your cortisol production is actually reducing,” said Gaskin.
Similar to other therapies that use animals to help people connect with their own emotions, in equine therapy, Gaskin said that a certified mental health therapist works alongside the equine specialist to conduct a formal psychotherapy session.
“It is wonderful for PTSD a lot of folks with trauma are seeing wonderful extraordinary changes when doing equine-assisted psychotherapy,” she said.
Hudson said she doesn’t want to use the word “magical, but it almost is.”
Gaskin says not everyone will engage directly with the animals, who are left to roam freely in the paddock.
“There is something about being outside here in the field with the trees and the birds and the horses that changes things.”
She said some clients will never touch the horse, while others will immediately want to pat the animals and “some will want to just stand near.”
Simply being in their presence, she said, somehow unlocks people’s emotions and lowers inhibitions.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.
The toll-free Hope for Wellness helpline provides 24-7 support for Indigenous Peoples at 1-855-242-3310. Online chat services are also available.
Trans Lifeline operates a toll-free peer support hotline for trans and questioning people at 1-877-330-6366.
For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.