The Power of Equine Therapy in the Veteran Community with Dr. Lior Vered

Blog, Women's History Month | 03/24/2023

2022 Tillman Scholar Dr. Lior Vered is a scientist, policy consultant, and mental health advocate. After volunteering in several community service organizations working for women’s issues, racial equity, and the environment, Dr. Vered founded two community projects – one to combat burnout and trauma in community organizations and the second to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Tragically, after the loss of her husband, Dr. Vered took on a new mission in life.

After her veteran husband lost the battle with post-traumatic stress, Dr. Vered vowed to dedicate her life to ending veteran suicide. She founded Heart Redeployment, a community mutual-aid project fostering protective relationships and community support to combat mental health challenges in the veteran community. Pursuing her master of social work at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, she researches resiliency and protective relationships among active-duty military battling mental health challenges, while also working as a public speaker on mental health and suicide prevention.

Recently, Dr. Vered has been interested in learning and utilizing a unique approach to support the mental health of veterans through equine therapy, a modality of therapy that encompasses a range of treatments that involve activities with horses and other equines to promote human physical and mental health. Hearing of the effectiveness of this modality from veterans, she was excited at the opportunity to see how utilizing this method was able to overcome skepticism from those typically ambivalent to other forms of therapy.

“I have never been much of a horsewoman, but the group gave me an opportunity to develop a sense of comfort and ease around these gentle creatures. The horses also taught me to trust my own intuition and wisdom, a sense I am now taking to interactions with my clients in my internship.”

During a recent semester, Dr. Vered was able to shadow and even participate in an equine therapy group offered through her social work internship placement. As being self-proclaimed as not having ever been a “horsewoman,” the group gave her an opportunity to develop a sense of comfort and ease around these gentle creatures. The horses also taught her to trust my own intuition and wisdom, a sense she is now taking to interactions with her clients.

“My path of growth and learning reached a new peak last week when I facilitated my first equine therapy session. The session was a challenging one, with clients really stepping out of their own comfort zone and working on deep issues.”

Throughout the session, Dr. Vered showed up as a facilitator, guided her clients while supporting them through their growing pains of finding comfort in the process. Learning the power of equine therapy she found this modality as a particularly good fit for the veteran population and is committed to further deepening her skills and expertise.

“I am now in the process of building an equine therapy program for veterans together with my mentor and partner for this work. The program we are building focuses on using the relationship with the horse to build safety within our own bodies and increase our sense of trust and well-being in the world. The program also focuses on building interpersonal skills, intimacy, and closeness as part of the recovery from trauma.”

The setting of equine therapy helps Lior’s clients to get out of their own heads and become grounded in the present moment, experiencing the beauty, fear, and aliveness of the world, this is the magic of equine therapy in her eyes.

“The safety of the relationship with the horse is a great place to work on developing intimacy and connection, learning to trust again, learning how to assert boundaries, and working on self-regulation of emotions. For veterans in particular, connecting to the horse requires lowering some of the defenses and letting go of hypervigilance while remaining grounded in who you are and your leadership and agency in the world. Oftentimes clients would have breakthroughs and revelations in equine therapy that they can then bring into their psychotherapy sessions. Equine therapy is a great catalysts that brings things to the surface and helps accelerate our internal work.”

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