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Thinking outside the box with mental health

Wednesday, 07 November 2018

Principal's Blog

There has been much talk about the mental health needs of young people and it is great to see the Chancellor recognising the problems schools face here in last week’s budget with his promise of mental health teams in every school. This problem is as diverse and wide ranging as the pupil body in the UK, however, and needs a rainbow of treatments, processes and therapies to really address it.

For some young people suffering from mental health issues (perhaps better termed ‘emotional health’), they will find medication helpful, for others it may be counselling that proves effective.

At Monkton, we are fundraising to try and build a centre which could use and further develop the work of people like Monty Roberts and Ros Spearing in offering equine therapy. The power of spending time with an animal who could destroy you in many ways but chooses not to because to do so is not in its nature is palpable. The horse reflects back much of what you are feeling but you cannot be angry with it so you learn to learn about yourself, with the help and support of an experienced therapist to guide you.

Organisations like Combat Stress and Help for Heroes have already had considerable success supporting returning servicemen and women suffering with PTSD with equine therapy; Clare Balding recently reported on places like Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, identified as one of the ten most deprived places in England, who are helping bring children out of gang culture, healing their emotional needs and giving them a greater understanding of themselves in the process. We are only just beginning a journey with this however, and more work is needed to explore impact for teenagers who are self harming (whether with a blade or by their eating habits), are depressed, suicidal or otherwise suffering. But equine therapy remains an area which is less well explored, more expensive and harder to understand than many.

This is a perfect example of where independent schools can really engage in the needs of all young people in the country; Monkton plans to offer free sessions to all local schools as well as local GPs who could refer children they think might benefit from this type of project. There is no way that the Chancellor could propose equine therapy centres in every school - it is a process that will only benefit some after all. But for those who do benefit, equine therapy can be the only thing which proves transformative and that seems worth fighting for and sharing with the wider community. In a recent blog I wrote about the place of the private sector being to offer innovation and this is another example of how independent schools can look to develop ideas which would not yet be viable on a larger scale; ideas which only these institutions are able to bring to the wider world of education.

We all know that young people face a barrage of pressures new to their generation; we need new answers to new problems. Equine therapy has a clear pedigree in helping people develop better emotional health. Whilst the use of horses for sport is sometimes vilified in the public eye, developing their use to help with today’s problems as part of the emotional health toolkit we can offer as schools is vital to improving the world in which our children are growing up. Just as these beautiful creatures used to carry us physical distances in the past, so today they can help us to journey in our understanding of ourselves and carry us to a place where greater self awareness leads to better lives. What have we got to lose?

If you want to find out more about Monkton’s equine therapy project or make a donation, please contact equinetherapy@monkton.org.uk.

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