In an effort to improve professionalism and measure proficiency in the field of equine-assisted psychotherapy, Aspen Ranch, a co-ed, licensed residential treatment center for troubled teens, has created its own equine co-facilitated psychotherapy certification program.
The Aspen Ranch certification program allows participants to achieve three different levels of proficiency in equine psychotherapy: basic, proficient, and advanced. At the basic level, candidates must display an ability to work around horses with the same type of competency the ranch expects of its students. Participants will have to earn a certain number of hours of riding time, practice group facilitation skills, and demonstrate an understanding of basic horse and human psychology.
At the proficient level, candidates must log 100 hours of riding time, begin to train horses using Carolyn Resnick's seven Waterhole Rituals, and demonstrate proficiency in conducting equine-assisted psychotherapy activities with students. Advanced certification candidates will be able to train a horse from start to finish, demonstrating complete proficiency as a horse trainer and therapist.
"This is a very demanding process," states Brandon Burr, LCSW, the clinical director at Aspen Ranch. "It will take roughly two years of intensive study for our staff members to reach the second level. But when they are through, they will have attained an unmatched level of competency that better serves our families and the profession at large."
"The certification is like getting a master's degree in equine therapy," adds Matt Pettit, a therapist at Aspen Ranch. "Aspen Ranch has always been committed to improving the standard of care by training staff to be better caregivers. A program could have the greatest interventions in the world, but it won't be effective unless the staff is great at what they do."
At Aspen Ranch, the certification program will ensure that the therapists and equine professionals are thoroughly cross-trained. Therapists who are already skilled in psychotherapy will become proficient in equine work, while equine staff members who are already skilled in working with horses will receive intensive therapeutic training.
"Ultimately, all of our staff will be dually qualified to provide all aspects of treatment to our students," says Burr. "That way, none of our professionals will be held back from making the maximum impact for lack of qualifications."
Equine therapy has always been a hallmark of the program at Aspen Ranch. With the development of the certification program, the equine approach is being even further integrated into every aspect of treatment. Aspen Ranch has several therapists on staff who already have the skills required for certification, but each individual will still complete the formal training process.
"The centerpiece of what we do is the horses," states Burr. "We don't necessarily want to make every staff member an expert horse trainer, but we need people with a high degree of comfort and savvy who can predict not only human behavior but also horse behavior. This way, when a staff member is in the riding arena with a student, he can always stay one step ahead of the intervention."
Over time, the goal is that the Aspen Ranch certification will compete with other popular equine certifications, setting a new standard of excellence in the field of equine-assisted psychotherapy. More than just a weekend course, professionals seeking Aspen Ranch certification will spend six months working toward basic competency and another year and a half to reach the "proficient" level.
"We want it to mean something when a person carries an Aspen Ranch certification," says Burr. "This is the only place professionals can get one, and it will be a well-recognized symbol of how much the individual has committed to the field of equine therapy."
According to Burr, equine therapy is an ideal match for teens struggling with defiance, anger, low self-esteem, mood disorders, and other emotional and psychological issues. Horses respond to human emotion and action, and will immediately sense and respond to a student's negative emotions and behaviors. As young people interact with the horses, they begin to build trust, communication skills, and confidence, and are able to relate the lessons they learned from the horses back to their everyday lives.
Aspen Ranch is a co-ed residential treatment center for troubled teens between 13 and 17.6 years of age. Based on the core values of respect, responsibility, relationships, and integrity, Aspen Ranch provides adolescents with a supportive structure and therapeutic activities that address specific developmental skill and knowledge deficits as well as emotional and behavioral problems.
Aspen Ranch is a proud member of Aspen Education Group, the nation's largest and most comprehensive network of therapeutic schools and programs. Aspen Education Group offers professionals and families the opportunity to choose from a variety of therapeutic settings in order to best meet a student's unique academic and emotional needs. Aspen Education Group has been profiled by major news and television organizations around the world, including U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and People magazine, as well as on CNN, ABC's 20/20 and Good Morning America, NBC's The Today Show and Dateline NBC, National Public Radio, and the syndicated television show Dr. Phil.
Aspen is a division of CRC Health Group, the nation's largest chemical dependency and related behavioral health organization. For more information about Aspen Education Group, visit www.aspeneducation.com or call 888-972-7736. For more information about Aspen Ranch and the benefits of equine therapy, please call 877-231-0734 or visit www.aspenranch.com.