Because of COVID-19, mental health is currently a huge topic, and Soul to Sole Connection is dedicated to providing counseling in a unique, out-of-the-box way for members of the military, their families and their caregivers.
“The big vision is to reduce the stigma around mental health, specifically in the military,” shared Katie Stankiewicz, executive director and equine specialist for Soul to Sole Connection, and what makes this nonprofit unique “is that we offer exclusively equine assisted counseling. So that means ground-based counseling out at our 40-acre farm with our horses and llamas and chickens and dogs and whoever else happens to come into the mix,” she noted.
The program is “not about riding and it’s not about horsemanship. It truly is about reconnecting and rediscovering the strengths that’s inside of each individual,” Stankiewicz said.
The therapy can be either individual with just the military member participating, or it can include family members and/or caregivers, or groups sessions of 10 people maximum are also available, Stankiewicz shared. Half-day or whole-day retreats are also offered at the farm, which is located close to Mooresville’s downtown.
“The experiential nature of working with horses, engages the active and retired military in their own healing process, reaching solutions that meet them squarely on their own terms,” Stankiewicz said.
“Horses offer safe reflection and compelling feedback for fears and anxieties military clients may be facing especially those with PTSD. The horses’ unique sensitivity can help clients understand their own internal processes more readily than hours of talk therapy, she continued. “Clients are able to rediscover their resources, their strengths and reconnect with parts of themselves that may have been lost due to their trauma.
“Clients experience activities with horses that remove much of the perceived stigma associated with traditional talk therapy treatment methods. When treatment is about doing, it is more engaging. Engagement increases impact. Clients are offered a 4-D experience for reflection, healing and growth. They are able to see, touch and even smell the world around them in a safe, non-judgement environment,” Stankiewicz noted.
Soul to Sole Connection offers its services to military members and their families at no charge.
“It is all free to those that have served us,” Stankiewicz said.
Therefore, the group is constantly raising funds and searching for partners to help pay for their care. “And when we say the care, 100% of the funds go directly to the mental health treatment for our population,” she shared.
As a participating nonprofit with the Love United Iredell, Soul to Sole Connection is seeking to raise funds to help with its eight-week therapy program for veterans. Those signing up for the program commit to the eight weeks, whether it is individually or as a family or in a group setting. At the end of the eight weeks, a reevaluation is made to see the progress made and what treatment is needed and how to move forward.
“Within the model that we follow, we always have a licensed therapist and we always have an equine specialist and our horses in all of our sessions,” Stankiewicz shared. “All our work has that team approach.”
The therapist is licensed through the state of North Carolina and has extensive training working with the military.
As the equine specialist, Stankiewicz said that comes from having a lifetime of horses, and she has “an understanding and a high knowledge based on equine behavior. But because we work in a metaphor-based world, we’re constantly watching interactions, watching the patterns, and the shift between the horses while they’re working with the clients.
“My role is to ensure physical safety of our clients but also watch how the horses are interacting with those clients and then what we do is we use the horse behavior or the llama behavior and reflect that back to what the client’s saying,” she said.
At different times, the professional facilitation team may talk with the client and ask for them to share their experience as to what that time was like with the animal, said Stankiewicz. “This offers them the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere.”
The special program is something Stankiewicz noted she could share about with others all day, “but the true power of the work comes from experiencing the horses.”
Those wishing to donate to Soul to Sole Connection can either call Stankiewicz directly at 704-237-0644 or by going to their website at www.s2sconnection.org and giving online.