HERMITAGE, Pennsylvania (WKBN) – Imagine being able to heal trauma in your life by connecting with an animal. That’s exactly what one non-profit organization in Grove City, Pennsylvania is striving to do.

Echo Pines Equine is a non-profit organization that provides trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy based on the principles of the Natural Lifemanship Institute. The mission of the Natural Lifemanship Institute is to help people and animals form connected, trusting relationships to overcome toxic stress and trauma.

“Traditional talk therapy that engages upper regions of the brain is not always easy for kids or adults with trauma,” said Licensed Social Worker, Steve Gilliland, who started the program in 2022 with his wife Melissa. “Trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy works through experiential interactions with the horse and the client.”

Gilliland says he starts with a social history so he can identify what the presenting problems are. He then works with clients on body awareness to help them understand their own feelings and sensations in the body. They will then begin to learn cues from the horses so they can interact in the best interest of the horses and themselves.

The herd consists of two quarter horses, a mammoth donkey, a standard donkey, a mule and a miniature horse.

“They learn to build healthy pathways from the lower regions of the brain where the trauma is harbored and pathways are developed up to the neocortex,” said Gilliland. “This makes it so they can function and think clearly within their families and interactions in society.”

The program works with children and adults and also engages family members of the clients. It also features educational programming and site visits for senior living facilities and local school districts. Services are provided at no cost to participants.

View other Health Chats featuring Buhl Regional Health Foundation on WKBN.com.

Visit Buhl Regional Health Foundation online.