(WBRE/WYOU-TV) For many Pennsylvania Veterans suffering from PTSD– traditional therapy just doesn’t work. But an unusual method of healing is helping some find an inner peace on a rural farm in Lackawanna County. Anchor Nick Toma has our story.
It’s called Equine Therapy pairing the patient with a horse.
More and more frustrated vets say this is the answer to their prayers.
If you had told Iraq War Veteran Patrick Hodgins two years ago he’d be in a barn, singing the praises of a horse, he would’ve thought you were crazy. Hodgins is a city boy, the only time he saw a horse was in the movies.
Hodgins was a Staff Sargeant in Kuwait City in 2003. Soon after coming stateside, he began experiencing signs of PTSD… Angry outbursts, alcohol abuse, drugs. One-on-one therapy wasn’t working.
That’s when he heard about “Equines for Freedom” in Newton Township, an organization that pairs horses with victims of PTSD.
Hodgins says he was skeptical but desperate. And this offered a different way of looking at why he was lashing out.
Turns out, it changed his life.
“Nobody in the V.A. System has ever looked at the whole picture before and this did. And that’s when, I was like, my belief was really starting to come to fruition, that this is going to work” Said Hodgins.
“The main thing was he went from being someone who couldn’t vocalize anything to being someone who I can say “Patrick, what’s going on” and he can tell me in brief what’s going on with him.” Noted Andrea Hodgins.
Vietnam Veteran Jan Kleiwer says he suffered from post-traumatic stress for 50 years before coming to Equine Therapy. Kliewer was an infantry medic.
He also tried traditional therapy with mixed results. The anger issues led to one divorce, and he says they nearly ended his second marriage as well.
He too was skeptical– but one year after starting Equine Therapy– he says he’s not sure how it works, only that it does.
“Practically all of my symptoms of PTSD have gone. I haven’t had any flashbacks or bad dreams.” Kliewer told us.
“I think one of the biggest things is when we’re working with those trauma memories in the past, its hard to ignore a large animal like this and that helps to keep the veteran in the present,” said Ann Marie Lewis, Psychologist- Clinical Coordinator
Therapy counselors use eye movement, desensitizing-reprocessing … EMDR for short. It’s a therapy that can help a person see disturbing experiences in a less distressing way. They say “Equines for Freedom” is one of only a few organizations in the world combining EMDR with horse therapy. Herd animals like horses tend to be naturally social, perfect for bonding with veterans. The goal is to teach the vets to then use that positive connection with people in their lives.
“I don’t have depression or suicidal thoughts, which I had all those things before I started in this therapy”. Kliewer said
Statistics show 30% of soldiers develop some form of mental health problem after serving in wartime. And with thousands of veterans living in NEPA, the V.A. Health system is hard pressed to help them all.
Equine Therapy is medically controversial, partly because there hasn’t been much data or research on results. Therapists for this program say it works, in part, by helping connect vets with the present rather than the past.
“There’s a lot of interaction that goes on. There’s a lot of body language, so they use body language to convey what they mean, right, so they read that in people as well” Said Heather Stage, Equine Specialist
Kliewer still regularly travels from Binghamton despite having completed therapy. He says he’s a changed man and has this horse–who he nicknamed “Joey” to thank for it.
“When Anne Marie told me what this was all about I just thought to myself, “this is crazy, this isn’t going to work.” but I was desperate”
The V.A. Does participate in some Equine Therapy programs — “Heroes and Horses” for example.
To see if you qualify– call the v.A. Health care benefits hotline at 1-877-222-8387.
Learn more about Equines for Freedom: Link Equines for Freedom
+1 (570) 665-2483
Equines for Freedom
PO Box 53
Factoryville, PA 18419