By MICHELLE THOMPSON,
Horseplay is all in a day’s work for Amanda Slugoski – a psychologist whose colleagues go by the names Patches and Snowball.
Instead of dishing out their troubles on a couch, Slugoski’s clients take their problems to a riding ring, where Slugoski tasks them with grooming or catching a horse.
“Rather than sitting on a couch and talking about their issues and challenges, I tell them, ‘we’re going to go out, we’re going to catch a horse and we’re going to see those issues and challenges come up,'” she said.
“You might feel fear, you might fear anger but we get to work with those emotions in the moment rather than just talking about it.”
Believed to give the only service of the kind in Edmonton, Slugoski offers equine-assisted psychotherapy, aimed at helping clients achieve their goals by working with horses and donkeys.
Based at the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre, 12505 Keillor Rd., Slugoski’s staff includes four horses and a donkey named Jasper.
When they arrive for a session, Slugoski tells clients to choose which animal they’d like to work with before giving them an assignment that requires interaction.
Sessions help strengthen the bond between Slugoski and her clients, she said, since the tasks require teamwork.
“Clients love it,” she said. “They think it’s fun. It’s a big motivational factor for them to keep coming back to see the horses.”
Through the interactions, Slugoski said she’s able to better understand the social and behavioural troubles her clients are facing.
There are at least eight other mental health therapists in Alberta offering similar services.