Connecting through horses
A business along the scenic Historic Columbia River Highway is using the therapeutic power of horses to help clients in need.
Horses are extremely sensitive to their environment — the perfect animals to work with those struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. They respond to body language and non-verbal cues, helping people develop insights that can be applied to all aspects of life.
"For anyone who has difficulty interacting with people, animals often provide a sense of comfort," said Alycia Smith.
Smith, alongside her partner Bethaney Clark, have opened a new business that takes advantage of the therapeutic powers of horses.
C.H.E.R.I.I.S.H. Counseling LLC (Cultivating Hope, Enriching Relationships, & Inspiring Internal Self-Harmony) is a mental health counseling program located a short drive from Troutdale, which provides individual, youth and family counseling with the help of horses. Both Smith and Clark, certified professional therapists with decades of experience with horses, opened the business in late June.
"We grew up in this area and always had horses in our lives," Clark said.
The pair have known each other since 2004 when they met at Barlow High School through the Equestrian Team. Now they have a team of six horses well-suited to working with all sorts of people. The Equine Assisted Services are great for those who have had a life change; trying to balance school, work and their personal life; children who are struggling with changes; people dealing with a new part of their identity; or someone who is working through a new job.
Smith specializes in working with preteens and teenagers dealing with anxiety, depression and self-harm, as well as with LGBTIQ+ youth. Clark works with young adults, ages 18 to 25, as well as older clients. Both are also equipped to work with groups, from company leadership programs to families dealing with conflict.
"Horses are intuitive toward our clients," Clark said. "They are able to express themselves in the moment."
At C.H.E.R.I.I.S.H. there are options to meet with the counselors in an office setting and not utilize the horses, though many clients find it therapeutic to be around the animals. People don't need to have experience around horses to take advantage, as it can be useful to learn how to manage the natural anxiety of being around a large animal for the first time. All of the work is ground-based, so there is no horse riding during sessions.
Some will stand next to the horses, using their session to be in a peaceful place. Often the clients will assign attributes or personalities to the horses, which serve as surrogates for their own lives. One child working with Smith said a horse reminded him of his father, with whom he had a strained relationship. The client saw himself in another horse, and the rest of the session was spent seeing how the two horses could interact in a positive way.
There is space inside and outside for the clients to be with the horses, so bad weather doesn't disrupt the services. The horses have unique personalities that resonate with clients. Some are more curious, while others respond better to stimuli.
"All of the horses are safe and accommodating," Smith said.
Learn more at cheriishcounseling.com or by calling 971-220-2496.
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