November 2018:  Equine Therapy--A Therapist's Perspective

Maren Hirschi, who is one of the primary therapist at Kolob Canyon RTC (Moonridge Academy's big sister school) is a gifted Equine Assisted Counselor.  Recently she wrote this article about her experiences with Equine Therapy for the NATSAP Newsletter.

When I was 16, my grandfather told me, “A horse can really learn to love a girl.”  It’s a powerful love.

A few weeks ago, our Equine Director, Anndi, and I were doing an Equine Therapy session with a family who was on campus visiting their daughter.  At the end of the session, Mom said, “It brings everything out into the open because it’s obvious.”

Adolescents in treatment are a tough and often closed off crowd.  Okay, anybody who is in residential or inpatient treatment probably falls into this category.  Regardless of how they look on the outside.  In the years that I have been doing this work, I have seen many treatment weeks and months spent breaking down the walls built by the masterful architect of hurt.  While we of course have a lot of tools in our toolbox to help us break through these walls , ie the therapeutic relationship, DBT, CBT, journaling, art, music, etc…, I have discovered a masterful co-therapist capable of crushing those walls in just a few sessions; sometimes this happens in just a few moments.

This Equine Therapy co-therapist of mine is a horse.  When I was trained in equine assisted counseling techniques under the Pegasus Model, the first thing I remember hearing was “The horse gives you what you need every time.”  Sure.  And, what other magic tricks does the horse do?  They talked of the horse being a mirror of a human’s experiences and emotions.  My co-worker, Craig, and I were paired together for an equine session demo during our training.  Our job was to get Lady through a track drawn in the dirt of the arena without touching her (only the lead ropes) or talking to each other.  She couldn’t step on the line of the track or we’d have to start over.  Lady, Craig, and I did this really easily the first time.  Lady walked through the track while looking back and forth from Craig to me.  Craig and I barely looked at each other and kept our focus on Lady and the task.  And that was it.  No big deal.  So I thought. Until the next pair tried do the same thing and couldn’t.  Lady was reflecting the great team that Craig and I are.  She knew she could trust us because we trust each other, and she and sensed that.

Okay, a horse acts as a mirror.  But, going so far as to rat a kid out who had been self-harming?  What other magic tricks does the horse do?  Then, one morning in February - after my team and I had been tubing on icy tubing hills at a local ski resort with our students and parents, I went to visit my equine buddy Hollywood.  I might get a little bit…playful when I’m on the tubing hills with our families.  While tubing, I hit my knee a time or two on the ice while diving onto my tube but didn’t really think anything of it; I just got up and went again.  Because it was fun.  When I approached Hollywood in his stall that afternoon, he got really antsy.  His eyes got big and he was doing this little prancing dance.  Hollywood had never acted like this for me before – he was my tall, lanky snuggle buddy who always acted pleased to see me.  So, of course I stepped into his stall.  What else would I do when my equine buddy who weighs at least 1,000 pounds more than me is upset?  The second I did, he calmed down and put his head next to my knees.  In the moment, I still couldn’t figure out what Hollywood’s damage was.  He was acting bizarre.  When I got home and changed out of my work clothes, I discovered my knees were black and blue from the morning’s fun.  Hollywood knew.  Now, I fully believed.

When I first started using equine assisted counseling, I did so because I love experiential therapy, I have always loved horses, I love being outside, and I hate sitting in my office.  I quickly saw it for what I thought it was: an opportunity do experiential therapy, with a horse and outside (not in my office).  AND, I got paid for it.  While these are all good reasons to use equine assisted counseling, it didn’t take long for me to realize that equine assisted counseling is so much more than those things.  It is a powerful, powerful approach.  It’s the backdoor approach that a client can’t ignore or pretend isn’t happening for a variety of reasons including: 

  1. Horses really do give me what I need every time.
  2. Horses always live in the moment. They don’t hold grudges, don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t future trip.  They aren’t worried about what I did 10 minutes ago or what I might do in 10 more minutes.  They care about where I am at right now.
  3. You can’t bullshit with a horse. You just can’t.  They see right through that.

When I find myself struggling to help a kid start being open, honest, genuine, and sincere with themselves, me, their peers, parents, etc…, Anndi and I take the kid to the arena.  I have witnessed magic happening over and over and over and over.  The horse speaks to the kid in a way I can’t and nobody else has been able to either.   Just today, I watched Princess refuse to be ignored by a kid who was trying to be determined to not make a connection.  Princess literally wrapped herself around the kid.  The kid didn’t have much of a choice besides making a connection in the moment.  Princess’ willingness to give us what we needed in the moment opened the door to some important work that I’m fairly sure this kid was determined to not do.  She started the work because it was obvious in the moment.  I have dozens of stories like this.

Besides the individual sessions, Anndi and I do family and group sessions.  We do family sessions as often as we can when we have families on campus.  The dynamics that play out during family and group equine sessions are both eye opening (because it’s obvious) and powerful.  One of my favorite groups happened a few weeks ago.  At first, all of the group dynamics from the milieu were playing out, and it was chaos.  We gave them an opportunity to try the task again after having had a chance to process the chaos.  Once again, it was magic.  The group was able to immediately go back and correct the chaos in order to complete a task that initially seemed impossible.

In her book, Harnessing The Power of Equine Assisted Therapy, K.S. Trotter said, “Not enough can be said about the power individuals feel when they are successful in getting a 1,200-pound horse that could easily overpower them to respond to them.”  When we start having more safe experiences of doing the impossible such as getting a horse to do something you ask it to, accomplishing the unimaginable work of things along the lines of loving oneself and maintaining solid relationships with family and peers becomes imaginable enough that we stop avoiding that work. Or, at least, we slow down our avoidance of the work.

I no longer use Equine Therapy (solely) as a way to get out of my office (although, that perk is still strong).  I now use equine assisted counseling for the powerful tool it is.  Even though I have witnessed the power of equine assisted counseling, I continue to be awed by the work that happens in the space that horses willingly share with us.

 


 October 2018:  Moonridge Students Compete at Utah Shakespeare Festival                                                                          In her efforts to ensure that Moonridge Academy provides students with an excellent academic experience, Susan Mackert, the Academic Director recently made some exciting additions. New teachers have been hired and a new drama class has been added to the class schedule. Over a year ago, students started working with professional actors to learn the art of improvisational comedy. Moonridge Academy will now be offering a more traditional drama class that focuses on the fundamentals of performing Shakespeare, as well as more modern works. In addition to classroom teaching, students will attend professional, community, and children's theatrical performances, and participate in workshops at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  

In the process of adding this drama class, Moonridge Academy hired a new drama teacher, Taylor Hall. Taylor loves the arts of storytelling and drama. He is deeply involved with several local theatre programs including Cedar Valley Community Theatre, Southern Utah University, and Cedar City Children's Musical Theatre. Taylor also works as an Education Assistant for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, teaching tots and teens alike. Taylor said, “My favorite part about working at Moonridge Academy is watching the students help each other, and even help themselves, to learn and grow.”

Students at Moonridge Academy competed in the Southern Utah University Shakespeare Festival Student Competition. Our new drama coach helped them prepare to perform a scene from Hamlet. Drama Coach, Taylor Hall said of the experience, "Taking my Moonridge students to Shakespeare Competition was a huge success! Most of them have never acted before, let alone tackled Hamlet. I can't show you their faces but I couldn't be more proud of them!". Our drama program has grown greatly in the past months, providing new opportunities for students to participate in plays and learn more about the classics.

  


 

September 2018:  Transitioning Home After Treatment:  CERTS Parent Education             

As a parent with a child in residential treatment, you are most likely planning for the day when your son/daughter will be transitioning home after residential treatment.  Many parents look forward to this day while also feeling concerned about what to expect.  As a parent you need to be work to live today as you would like to live as a family in the future.  Recently Ariel Rhoades, Dean of Student Life at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy provided a parent education webinar about planning for transitioning home after residential treatment.  Her helpful webinar provided parents with lessons about what to expect when their child transitions home as well as things they can be doing not only to prepare for that transition, but for the day when their child will be at home.  Ariel suggests that parents should use the time while their child is in treatment to learn about their parenting philosophy and approach.  Practice that while your child is in treatment.

 Expect It:  Regression

When your child moves from more structure to less structure, you are giving them the opportunity to make more choices.  With those choices comes the option to make poor choices.  While this is understandably difficult for parents to watch, it is part of the process.  Ariel encourages parents to reframe the word regression to "I have met my child where they are at, rather than wish they were somewhere else".  Failure often leads to success.  Mistakes and poor choices are on opportunity for growth and learning.  Be willing and able to accept your child's poor choices and guide them as a parent to better solutions.  Ariel suggests the following four steps:

  1. To the extent possible, manage your own emotional reactivity:  Let your responsibility to parent trump the emotional response that "yet another" mistake has been made.
  2. Praise and reward honesty:  Even if your child has made a poor choice, but tells you about it, reward their attempt at letting you know a bad choice has been made.
  3. Use the least structure that is necessary to solve the problem
  4. Include your child in decision making about solutions and consequences

 Internalization:  A Lofty Goal as Teens Transition Home After Residential Treatment

Watch for holding too high of a standard too soon.  This process of internalization will take time.  External motivators are a part of life and it is OK if these are still major motivators for your child.   Brain formation is not complete until a person is 25 years old with regard to strong connections in the pre-frontal lobe.  This means that as parents we will need to provide support and structure for our young adult children.  This doesn't mean they have failed at residential treatment.  Treatment has provided seeds towards internalization in the future.

Phases of Change: Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment

  1.  Excitement:  This happens in the weeks and months before a child comes home and for a time period soon after they come home.  This phase can include both excitement and anxiety.
  2. Honeymoon:  Initially parents and students have a great deal of hope when they first come home.  Lessons and skills have been learned which students will do well at first to follow.  However once a student starts to have some difficulties, they might begin to feel a loss of confidence.
  3. Testing:   As teens make decisions (both good and bad), this phase is often filled with both confusion and optimism.  Things will go well and things might be a bit bumpy.  As parents it is important to provide support without getting too discouraged.  Challenges and opportunities will arise.  This is a time to help build trust and respect.
  4. Confidence:  As teens grow through making decisions and using the skills they have acquired in treatment, they will begin to gain confidence.  At times their confidence might be low and at others it might be high.  Parents need to provide both encouragement and caution for their teen.  Both you and your teen will have decision points as they gain confidence.  Expect things to be a bit bumpy at times.  It might be smart to prepare for challenges that might occur and how you might respond to these challenges.  Learn to work together as a parenting team so you have a united front.

 Develop a Support Network

While your child has been in treatment you have had a fantastic support system.  You will still need that once your child comes home.  Because recovery is an ongoing process, Ariel suggests that you create the following network:

  • Prior Family Therapist
  • Current Family Therapist
  • Personal Individual Therapists
  • Parenting coach or mentor
  • Spouse or Partner
  • Extended Family
  • Friends
  • Support Groups

 Develop a Home Contract:

A Home Contract helps both teen and parent think ahead about key areas in which you and your child need limits, support and guidance.  If a contract is planned ahead of time it allows for direct and active discussions.  Ideally a Home Contract provides a means to practice for life outside of treatment that still integrates personal insights, improved behaviors and new values.  This critical as a teen transitions from the structure of residential treatment to the structure of home.

 Think and Plan Now For Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment:

Planning is different than worrying, second guessing and playing out the worst case scenario.  Parents need to be adaptable during the treatment process.  This could mean a willingness to expand and retract on home visits while a teen is still in treatment as well as the ability to expand and retract after they return home.

 


 

 August 2018:  Moonridge Academy Announces Some Exciting Changes                                               

After 10 incredible years as the Executive Director of Moonridge Academy, Tawny Thomas, LCSW will be passing the baton and transitioning into a new position with CERTS, who is the parent company of Moonridge and includes programs Kolob Canyon, La Europa Academy, Mosaic House and Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy. In late August 2018, Tawny becomes the CERTS Director of Business and Program Development.  Tawny will oversee marketing, relationship development and program support for all CERTS Programs.  While it was an extremely difficult decision to step back from her beloved programs and team, Tawny shared “I am looking forward to this new opportunity and to continue working with the fabulous team at Moonridge Academy.”

With Tawny's transition, Moonridge Academy is excited to welcome Jack Hinman, PsyD. as the new Executive Director.  He will be joining the Moonridge team in on August 20, 2018. Jack comes to Moonridge Academy teams with years of clinical and leadership experience, having helped grow and develop other exemplary girl's programs. Jack says "I am excited to join a great team that has a strong commitment and passion to helping young women and their families reach their potential.” Jack and his family live in Southern Utah. Jack is an avid cyclist and outdoors enthusiast.

 


 

 June 1, 2018:  OUR NEW CLINICAL DIRECTOR                                                                                                           

Moonridge Academy is excited to announce Lacey Heinzelman, LPC, LMFT as their new Clinical Director. Lacey received her Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, TX. Lacey comes to Moonridge Academy with variety of experiences working in both residential and wilderness settings.   Most recently Lacey was a lead clinician and trainer at New Visions Wilderness in Wisconsin. Prior to working at New Visions Wilderness, Lacey was a therapist at Explorations in Montana. Lacey has advanced training in Brainspotting, Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga, and HeartMath strategies. She is a trained family therapist, working with the entire family system to create long lasting change. Lacey has unique experiences working with young women in adventurous settings. This is essential at Moonridge Academy where the students are middle school age and are involved in weekly Adventure Therapy.   Lacey is also a creative therapist including art projects, play therapy and music in therapy sessions. She is a calming, steady presence as a therapist when working with younger girls in a fun and empowering way. For families, Lacy is a consistent support providing real solutions for families in need. Lacey knows the treatment industry inside and out, but even more importantly, she knows teenagers and how to help create some incredible change. In her off time, Lacey enjoys exploring and playing in the outdoors, reading, Packer football, and spending time with her family

“We're so excited about Lacey coming to Moonridge”, comments Executive Director Tawny Thomas.  “She's walking into an already amazing team of clinicians and there's no doubt she'll help make it even better!”

 


 

May 2018:  LAURIE BARRETT CELEBRATES 14 YEARS AT MOONRIDGE!                                                                  

  

Laurie Barrett is celebrating 14 years working at Moonridge Academy! She has been with us since we opened our doors. Her dedication to the students at Moonridge is undeniable and amazing to see. She clearly brings a sense of loving support to the students she serves and the staff she works with. Her warm welcome to anyone who enters our doors whether they be student, parent or touring professional instantly makes Moonridge feel like home. This comment says it best, "Laurie is by far the most genuinely good person I have ever met. Her dedication to the youth and even the staff is absolutely amazing. Laurie is gentle, caring, and highly devoted to everyone at Moonridge. It's truly a blessing to have met her and to work with her. She's amazing!" Sami Tovar (Youth Mentor). Thank you Laurie for being a member of our team.

  

 


 

 

 

April 2018:  APRIL ADVENTURE TO SNOW CANYON                                                                               

Our April adventure excursion was a total success!  We camped in one of our favorite places--Snow Canyon. Snow Canyon is a State Park located in the St. George area.  We spent 3 fun filled days camping, hiking, and exploring the lava tubes.  The weather was perfect with highs in the 80's and lows in the 60's!  The students enjoyed scampering on the rocks the most which was easy to do because they are everywhere.  Each of our adventure trips has a DBT theme.  For this trip the theme was Mindfulness.  Each day includes activites and group sessions concentrating on the theme.  

      


 

March 2018: MOONRIDGE ACADEMY TEACHERS ARE EXCELLENT   

Math Teacher Nancy Ward was honored with an "Excellence In Service" Award at the Southwest Regional NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs) Conference held on March 6, 2018 in St. George, UT.  Nancy was among 10 candidates nominated for this award.  Nancy started working at Moonridge Academy in July 2016 soon after graduating from Southern Utah University.  Nancy continues to go far beyond her job description to meet Moonridge students at their learning level and engage them in her passion for math.  Nancy has found that if she connects wtih students outside of the classroom she has won the battle inside the classroom.  She does this as she builds a relationship with students through participation in adventure activities and therapy groups.  Nancy has cheered on students as they compete in local horseshows.  She has intereacted with students on monthly adventure excursions.  Recently Nancy was observed helping a student with her homework during a trip to Lake Powell.  Nancy is willing to come in early and stay late to help tutor a student who needs extra assistance.  Once a student sees that nancy uses her free time to have fun, connect or study with them, students show up ready to learn in class.  Often students come to Moonridge Academy disliking math.  They have often been unsucceful in math and this has caused increased anxiety as they enter the math classroom.  Due to Nancy's individualized approach to teaching and her ability to conncext with her students outside of classroom, student leave Moonridge feeling confident with (and often loving) math.  Test scores and quarterly student updates consistently prove her success. 

TJ Penrod!! There are simply not words to effectively express our appreciation for this amazing man!  He is a man of many hats who ironically likes to wear hats too.  Whether he is directing a play, performing at his Improv Comedy Club--Off the Cuff, adventuring with the students or teaching a class, TJ brings a sense of excitement and commitment.  He makes everyone around him feel important, cared about and safe.  He really listens.  He makes things fun!  Social Studies Class is interesting and never boring with TJ (comments all shared by his current students).  TJ recently celebrated his 11th year working at Moonridge.  He received a Excellence in Service Award for his years of dedicated service.  TJ has worked at Moonridge Academy as a Program Staff and Mentor.  He then became the Assistant Program Director.  In addition to those responsibilities he taught our staff about effective behavio maTnagement techniques and taught our students the love of Improv in Drama Class.  Recently he became our full-time Social Studies Teacher.  We feel so lucky that TJ has continued to make Moonridge Academy his work home.