Healing With Equines, Empathy & Embodied Awareness
Since she was a young girl, Dr. Vallerie Coleman found herself drawn to the majestic, graceful power of horses. Whenever she could she would carve out some time to ride, which eventually led to her owning a horse of her own as a teenager.
Although she was never a formal rider, Dr. Val – as she is affectionately referred to by clients, colleagues and peers – describes the feelings she has had around horses her entire life as one of grounded peace. It’s no surprise then, that years later Dr. Val has found a way to combine her love of equines with her dynamic and skilled psychotherapeutic career.
After practicing as a licensed psychologist, Dr. Val obtained her doctorate in Psychoanalysis, and worked intensively with clients in this manner for quite some time. She eventually came to a profound realization: “It dawned on me that I really wasn’t an ‘in the office 5 days a week’ kind of person. I was burning out and needed a change of pace.” She moved out of the city and promptly started procuring horses.
“Someone mentioned Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy, and to be honest, I thought it was a little out there at first,” says Dr. Val. “But when I explored it further, it began to make sense. I had experienced firsthand throughout my life how equines pick up on what is going on within us, and how they have the power to relate our own experience back to us. It just clicked,” she says.
Dr. Val always learned better experientially and discovered the value of getting herself and her clients out of their heads and more firmly rooted into their bodies, putting that transformation into actual therapeutic experiences. “This is a remarkable way of creating shifts in people,” says Dr. Val.
“We can know what we should do in a cognitive way, but actually putting these ideas into practice, and having the experience of coming to terms with where our blocks are by utilizing the feedback we get from the equines in real time creates a powerful, embodied experience that helps people move forward and heal.”
When we hear the term, “equine-assisted psychotherapy”, we may not think this type of work is readily applicable to a broad demographic. But Dr. Val’s impressive facility, Stand InBalance, provides a range of therapeutic services for a broad spectrum of people ages 6 and up.
Dr. Val and her cohorts facilitate groups, they see youth, families and individuals who are often struggling through transitional phases of life. “We do a lot of work with neuro-diverse youth, as well as veterans, and those struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, loss and trauma. It really suits a broad spectrum,” says Dr. Val.
She notes that despite the fact that all forms of equine therapy can be therapeutic, equine-assisted psychotherapy is quite unique. This is due to the fact that when the work involves a licensed therapist, there is a specific kind of transformative and healing experience that takes place. When it comes to working with, Dr. Val has a very clear vision of the work and its potential for providing youth with a healing experience.
“We want to help Paradigm clients really make use of the wisdom and gifts that equines have to offer. Helping kids tap into their own strength and resilience and find areas of challenges and the subsequent tools to work through them makes our work particularly fulfilling,” says Dr. Val.
“I love working with Paradigm Treatment Centers. When we join with the facility, we’re really working collaboratively as a team and as a part of the program,” she says. “Knowing the extensive services that youth are getting here at Paradigm Treatment Centers, we know that they will typically come in with a certain level of awareness. This is an opportunity to put their learnings from their residential setting and related work into practice.”
When asked about her hopes for the people who find themselves in her arena with her noble staff of equines,
Val had this to say:
“Our hope is to be able to offer clients something they can integrate and take back into the world with them. We get to address social and emotional issues in a real way, in the arena with the equines, that can then be parlayed into the arena of life. It’s truly an exciting process that I am thrilled to be a part of.”
Stand InBalance employs both equine specialists and psychotherapists, all of whom possess a deep gratitude for and understanding of their 12 equine co-facilitators. “They, more than anyone, help keep us honest!” Says Dr. Val. “They provide a really authentic inventory about where clients are, and as such, they inform our practice invaluably.” Given the incredible work we have witnessed from Dr. Val and her equine and human team, we can say with confidence that this is most certainly true!