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When clients go to Spirit Reins for counseling, they can receive traditional therapy in an office setting. But the sessions are more likely to take place outside, and with a horse standing alongside the mental health professional.

“Research shows that talk therapy is most often not effective for kids who have experienced trauma,” said Kris Weixel, chief financial and operating officer of the nonprofit agency based in Liberty Hill, Texas.

Behavioral healthcare providers are increasingly using horses as part of the therapeutic regimen. These therapeutic models vary considerably in their conceptualization and design. Some involve actually learning riding skills, while others emphasize talking while grooming, feeding and exercising the animals. You can tell how many ways therapists use horses in mental health treatment by the multiple terms professionals use: equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP), hippotherapy, equine facilitated wellness, equine facilitated counseling, or equine facilitated mental health.

Spirit Reins offers a very specific expertise. The agency specializes in understanding how a child’s brain develops and how trauma interrupts that development and the ability to form healthy relationships. Their experiential, family-centered treatment with horses brings fast results. “We use horses to help clients better understand and improve relationships,” Weixel explained.

In the behavioral healthcare realm, equine therapy has been used to treat such conditions as addiction, behavior disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, ADD/ADHD, grief/loss, trauma, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar, depression and related conditions. It’s also used in managing brain injuries, intellectual disabilities, language disorders and sensory processing disorders.

Extensive research on the efficacy of equine-related therapies is so far unavailable. It is particularly unclear whether involvement of a horse is itself therapeutic or whether any benefits are more about conducting therapy in a non-office setting. While the jury is still out on EAPs, the trauma-focused treatment that Spirit Reins uses does enjoy empirical support. Their outcomes show the approach is effective for the population the agency serves.

Staff at Spirit Reins say the form of therapy can be especially appropriate for people who have endured trauma, many of whom have experienced abuse or neglect and have been adopted from foster care. “We deal with kids who come from really hard places,” Weixel explained. “Because they most likely are not in a place where trusting other human beings has been successful, it can be easier for them to connect with and trust a horse.”

Since 2010, Spirit Reins has been using the Natural Lifemanship® model of trauma-focused therapy, and provides a variety of experiential therapy such as trauma-focused equine assisted psychotherapy, play therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy and equine-assisted eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Spirit Reins continues to grow and refine services based on data collection and client outcomes. They specialize in understanding how a child’s brain develops and how trauma interrupts that development and the ability to form healthy relationships.

The agency turned to ClinicTracker in December 2015 for a customized EHR system that met the complex needs of its unique, and growing, operation. “We have faced several challenges around data collection and reporting because of our extensive documentation requirements as a nonprofit and the non-traditional model of therapy we use,” Weixel explained. “ClinicTracker continues to work with us on addressing these challenges.”

ClinicTracker’s customizable format allows the agency to design a system that can schedule appointments, reserve resources and be alerted to potential conflicts. BillingTracker helps Spirit Reins efficiently manage complex billing situations that often include a combination of private insurance, Medicaid, private pay, contracts with community organizations, and scholarships.

As a nonprofit, Spirit Reins must generate many specialized reports for funders. The agency also seeks to improve its data collection and management to support evidence-based programs. ClinicTracker created customized reporting systems that allow the agency to track and create reports involving demographics, rating scales, and patient treatment outcomes. As Spirit Reins continues to fine-tune its reporting process, ClinicTracker can change along with them.

Although Spirit Reins continues to do assessments and evaluations outside of ClinicTracker, the system has made collecting data more efficient, limiting staff time and increasing individual staff accountability.

About ClinicTracker

ClinicTracker is a robust, future-proof mental health and substance abuse EHR. Dr. Michael Gordon, a renowned clinical psychologist, and Joshua Gordon, an award-winning software engineer, founded the company in 2000. ClinicTracker EHR’s powerful software empowers your agency to succeed. ClinicTracker will automate all of your clinic routines, boost staff productivity, increase billing efficiency, and provide the tools you need to manage your clinic effectively. While mental health and substance abuse agencies are the most common group of users, foster care agencies, social services, equine assisted therapy programs, university clinics, academic counseling systems, family counseling services, and eating disorder clinics also take advantage of our powerful software.