An innovative solution to reach out to youth, the London Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) has launched an equine therapy program. The program is geared to youth who face family challenges or may have a parent with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI).
“What we were really looking for is how we can capture youth whose parents have Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs) because we know parent-child conflict occurs, anger management and problem-solving skills are impacted by the hypervigilance of an OSI. We also know that communication skills and hypervigilance is escalated by adolescence,” said Tammy Murray, Family Liaison Officer (FLO) with the London MFRC.
The project was the initiative of Murray and Polly Maher from Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS).
As a FLO, Murray receives many referrals regarding parent-child conflicts and miscommunication.
The equine therapy is designed to help the youth with communication, both verbal and non-verbal, conflict resolution and goal setting.
“We know that much of what we convey verbally is probably ten per cent of how we communicate. So, what the horses teach the youth is how the energy and mood we are in and whatever is going on with us how it can be read…essentially what it does is widen their lens. It recognizes that how they behave or act impacts them, but the reciprocal fact is also true with their family members,” stated Murray.
Working with horses can help children to walk into a situation, know how to read it and respond to it with problem-solving techniques.
“What happens a lot of the time is the youth will take that on as ‘I’ve done something wrong’ when in fact it’s dad had a bad day or mom has a lot on her plate and isn’t focusing well because it may have something to do with her PTSD, her depression or anxiety,” explained Murray.
The session was facilitated by professionals from Sandy Lane Stables in Bradford, ON.
The youth spent the first part of the one-day session getting to know the horses, how they read humans and working on activities to establish trust and a connection.
The session culminates in an obstacle course where the participants take their horse through a course. The obstacle course is a metaphor of the youth’s life and the barriers they may face when trying to reach their goals.
“As they are able to lead the horse through each obstacle they are able to recognize that even though they may struggle they can still get through those barriers to their goals,” said Murray.
Murray believes the first session was a success, and it helped to empower the youth with a voice.
The horses provided by the stables were rescue animals, and the session impacted the parents with OSIs who felt they could relate to how the horses can no longer do what they used to.
“One of the parents was able to reflect that to his life and said ‘that’s interesting because my PTSD is a barrier for me to do what I love to do so maybe I need to look at what I can do differently i.e. similar to the horses,’” observed Murray.
The London MFRC plans to hold another equine therapy session this fall.
The London MFRC has held other workshops and events for family members of someone with an OSI including a spousal workshop and a couples workshop. On Sept. 19, in conjunction with OSISS, the MFRC is planning a parental retreat for those with grown children diagnosed with an OSI.