Jeanie Shimmin, a licensed mental health provider, spends some quality time with her horses Friday morning. Shimmin has added equine group therapy to her scope of practice.
A new counseling option in North Platte will give area residents a chance to process their emotions with horses.
The Business and Community Education department at North Platte Community College will offer "Working through Grief with Equine Group Therapy" April 17-May 8. The program will consist of four sessions from 2-4 p.m. on Mondays.
Jeanie Shimmin, a licensed mental health provider, is the instructor. Shimmin has been in practice since 2009. She started at St. Joseph's Children's Home in Torrington, Wyo., working with children ages 6 to 18 with behavioral and mental health disorders.
In 2015, she opened her own counseling service in North Platte, Therapeutic Choices, where she specializes in trauma care.
The equine aspect is new to her practice, although Shimmin has been EAGALA-certified since 2012. EAGALA is the largest, most established professional association for equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Shimmin decided to add the offering because of the benefits she witnessed at St. Joseph's.
"Equine group therapy is different from talk therapy in that you don't have to explain what you've experienced," said Shimmin. "It's more of a focus on internal processing."
The horses are a tool to do that. Therapy participants are assigned a horse in a corral and are given a task to make the animal do, such as move around the arena. They can't use halters or other equipment, and everything is done on foot. The horses are not ridden.
Shimmin said equine therapy results in strong outcomes and is proven to help clients change and grow faster and more effectively than traditional clinical and psycho-educational approaches.
"That's because people typically learn best by doing," said Shimmin. "Life lessons take deeper root when individuals both understand them in their heads and experience them in their bodies. Working with horses is engaging, real time and hands-on. The experience is immediate and fully felt. Horses give us clear, immediate feedback about what we present to the world."
She said horses are emotionally intelligent – capable of sensing feelings and reading body language.
"If you're anxious, the horse will be as well," said Shimmin. "Being around the animals gives people the opportunity to connect with their feelings and emotions - even the ones they're not consciously thinking about. The result is that people tend to learn about themselves, overcome fear and build confidence."
She recommends the therapy group for people experiencing grief of any kind, such as the loss of a loved one or job, relationship issues or a change in environment.
"If someone has tried other forms of therapy and nothing has worked, this could be the answer," said Shimmin.
Her only requirement is that participants wear some form of closed-toe shoes or boots. No experience working with horses is necessary.
The fee for the course is $29. People can register at register.centerforenterprise.com, or by calling (308) 535-3614.