Jedlicka said the Eagala model allows an individual to externalize their problems onto the horse and the environment. These problems may include anything from children dealing with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to veterans experiencing post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a prey animal, the horse responds to what the individual is externalizing. These responses may include the horse swatting its tail or walking away completely, but PBJ Connections’ mental health specialists help the client process all situations and issues.
“My dad, to this day, will tell you that he’s pretty sure horses kept me out of trouble,” Jedlicka said.
MAKING AN IMPACT
PBJ Connections has grown tremendously since its beginning and has started partnering with other organizations to reach a wider range of individuals, such as first responders and veterans, through EAP.
“That experience is always powerful,” Jedlicka said. “There’s so much trauma walking in, but it’s an amazing experience to see these men let themselves fall apart and start to deal with their trauma because of some interaction that they’re having with a horse.”
Katie Fitzsimmons, an equine specialist and mental health specialist intern, graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in equine science and is working on her master’s degree in social work at The Ohio State University.
Fitzsimmons has also had the opportunity to experience these incredible breakthroughs.
“Whether I’m a mental health specialist, in the role, or an equine specialist, knowing that we were able to provide a space for that person to make that type of growth is really rewarding and so cool to watch,” Fitzsimmons said.
PBJ Connections has also started incorporating new programs like expressive arts groups. These activities have been facilitated throughout the community and in partnership with some schools. Programs like this can reach more individuals, which allows PBJ Connections to take their mission statement to the next level.
“Most of the treatments that we’re doing are very experiential, so the client is actually doing something and not just talking about doing something,” Jedlicka said. “Expressive arts [are] just another way to facilitate that.”
Even with all of these impactful programs, quantifying the success rate of individual experiences can be difficult. Some individuals attend a few sessions and then never come back or reach out again, which is a common trend for someone seeking out mental health therapy, Jedlicka said.
On the other hand, PBJ Connections offers a 10-week school program and a six-week substance abuse program, both of which allow for easier and more obtainable feedback.
Jedlicka said, “That feedback is always very positive.”
THE WAY THINGS WORK
Some individuals worry about the risks involved with working so closely with horses, but Jedlicka offers another perspective.
The Eagala model requires a code of ethics and a partnership between a licensed mental health provider and an equine specialist, so no one is working alone during a session. In addition, there is no riding involved. This allows for a very safe way of working around horses, Jedlicka said.
When someone comes to PBJ Connections with a diagnosable mental illness, specific treatment goals are set to fit their needs. The mental health specialists then measure the client’s progress throughout his or her sessions with the horses. This information is documented every time the specialist sees the client, Jedlicka said.
As a mental health specialist intern, Fitzsimmons also has a case load of her own.
Fitzsimmons said the goals are specifically tailored to each client based on their presumptive symptoms and chief complaints. A mental diagnosis is a way for mental health specialists to summarize all of the symptoms the client is presenting.
"We don’t like to put anybody in a cookie-cutter mold, but instead give more of an individualistic treatment," Fitzsimmons said.