John T. Nash – Personal Experience with EAP
In the spring of 2006 I was hurting really bad, both￼ mentally and physically. I couldn’t sleep more than about two hours a night be-cause of nightmares and flashbacks related to experiences I had in Viet Nam some 38 years prior. It was as if my mind was a balloon and it kept expanding over the years until it was ready to burst. Finally I decided to go to the mental health department of the VA hospital in Denver, Colorado. I was working as a carpenter at the VA hospital at that time. I thought that if I could just get something to help me sleep, things would get better. Of course, I wasn’t about to admit that there was any serious mental health issues going on because I was sure that I was too tough to have something like that happen to me. The mental health department sent me to a counselor and a psychiatrist before they would write me a prescription for sleeping pills. I knew nothing about PTSD prior to these visits.
After spending time with my therapist and psychiatrist, reasons for the way I was feeling began to emerge. The doctors diagnosed me with severe PTSD and depression, and prescribed medications for me. It took some time before the right medications and doses were established. Finally, I could actually get some quality sleep. It was such a relief! However, there were parts still there under the umbrella of PTSD that kept filling the balloon. Things such as hate, rage, anxiety, survivor’s guilt, self-medicating with alcohol, bunkering up, flashbacks, relationship problems, depression, not wanting to be around people, short temper, etc., were still keeping me from living a “normal” life. Although there had been a time in my life when “normal” wasn’t good enough for me, whatever “normal” means – I wanted to be “exceptional” in everything I did including the military, and I believe I was, however, after seeking treatment for PTSD and learning as much as I could about its effects, “normal” sounded pretty good to me after all.
A couple of months before I went in for treatment, through to a couple of months after I began treatment, were the lowest times I’d ever had. I believed there was no hope of ridding myself of my demons-I believed I was ready to “check out.” The things that saved me were my dear wife, Jackie, our horse, Rain, and my therapist, Linda. Rain became my first coping mechanism. I’d come home late at night full of alcohol and depression. I’d head straight for the corral, throw some hay on the ground, then sit right in the middle of it. Rain would come over and nuzzle me and start to eat the hay around me.
I’d fall asleep feeling her warm breath down my neck, no caring if she’d step on me or worse. She never did, by the way. Some length of time later she would nudge me awake as if to say “everything is okay now, you can go to bed.” That is when I started to realize “the power of the horse.” She knew I was depressed and experiencing all the effects of PTSD. She stood over me and comforted me and protected me from me.
I could write a book on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and how a therapy horse mirrors our feelings and emotions, and the healing that is a direct result of these relationship be-tween horse and human.
Through all these years, my wife stood by me and was instrumental in helping me rejuvenate my faith in Jesus Christ as my savior. I call Him the Big Guy and I don’t think He minds me saying that. The Big Guy is running this program, I couldn’t do it without Him. My therapist has given me new hope and shown me the road to recovery.
No one on earth has all of the answers to full recovery from what we veterans have experienced through war, although much progress is being made with each new day. Our motto at Combat Veterans Cowboy Up is: “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’ve found the trail!”
After I began treatment and got my medications right, I began to really contemplate how important “the power of the horse” was in saving my life. The thought that other combat veterans with mental health issues being similarly helped by a therapy horse was the beginning of my commitment and passion to develop a program which would do just that. Thus started Combat Veterans Cowboy Up. There is a bond among veterans that cannot be put into words-it’s something that you have to experience. “Survivor’s guilt” is a veteran asking himself or herself, “Why did I survive and others didn’t? Why didn’t I take the hit instead of them?” I no longer have “survivor’s guilt” because I now know why I survived-to create and lead Combat Veterans Cowboy Up to help as many veterans as I can using Equine Assisted Psychotherapy to help heal mental health issues. This is now my mission for the rest of my life.
Combat Veterans Cowboy Up is a two-part program, the first being Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). EAP is conducted on the ground in an arena facilitated by a three-part team consisting of an Equine Specialist (ES), a Mental Health Professional (MHP) and therapy horses that are free in the arena. The client will be given activities to do involving the horses. The ES monitors the actions and interactions of the horses with the client. Being able to read the body language of the horses, this information is then passed to the MHP, who then incorporates that information with their observations of the client. Using metaphors the team then decides what questions to ask the client when they “check-in” with the client. The client begins to relate how the horses interact with them to situations in their life. EAP is an extremely powerful modality to work on all kinds of mental health issues. It is meant to enhance the veteran’s therapy being conducted at a VA hospital or Vet Center or other sources of traditional psychotherapy. EAP is in no way meant to replace conventional therapy.
Combat Veterans Cowboy Up Equine Assisted Psychotherapy “Alumni days” are scheduled in advance, whereby those who have completed the program will be invited back to the ranch for a day of fun, interacting with the horses, camaraderie, barbecues, and socializing. The client’s family and friends will also be invited to see for themselves what their heroes have accomplished.
John T. Nash,
Combat Veterans Cowboy Up,
Founder/Executive Director/Chairman of the Board