Katie Zucco is CORRAL’s Mental Health Services Manager at the Neuse River Campus in Southeast Raleigh.
On the surface, my role is to provide the CORRAL girls with individual and group equine-assisted psychology therapy (EAP). It’s so much more than this! My role does not begin and end with a therapy session.
EAP allows for the girls to build a therapeutic relationship that mitigates power dynamics in a therapist-client relationship and find healing through the horses. Therapeutic skill teaching and coaching, emotion regulation, and healing from trauma does not happen in one session. Our girls demonstrate grit and hard work by navigating these things during tutoring, group EAP, individual EAP, and caring for the well-being of the horses. These skills are learned and applicable throughout our girls’ time at CORRAL. Which makes it possible to help them use those skills in other areas of their lives.
In the realm of therapy and the work of emotional intelligence — it’s hard. Our girls often come to CORRAL unsure of how to identify and cope with their emotions. This process is so vulnerable to ask our girls, girls who experience trauma, to listen to their minds and bodies to heal and move forward. Typically our girls can share two emotions: anger and sadness.
At the start of January 2020, we started our second round of Join the Herd at our Neuse River Campus. On that first day, a bubbly and hopeful 12-year-old joined CORRAL. Throughout her time with us, she’s been able to practice vulnerability and share her journey with anxiety. She had a tough group session that opened up an opportunity for her to learn conflict resolution skills and practice vulnerability. This normally bubbly child sat teary-eyed for almost twenty minutes before she felt she could safely share how she felt and what she needed. To me, this highlighted not only how our kids don’t have the language to share their emotions, but how they’ve not always had opportunities to safely share their feelings. During that 20 minutes, I wondered how we would move forward; I didn’t want her to leave feeling as though she couldn’t share what she needed and get support. At that point, she took a deep breath, used an “I feel” statement, and stated what she needed.
From that point, this child built a strong relationship with her peers, CORRAL staff and our champion volunteers. Since that day, she has come to CORRAL bubbly, hopeful, and ready to demonstrate vulnerability that has allowed her to role model for her peers how share her emotions and ask for help in a non-judgmental manner.
Even throughout COVID-19 and CORRAL’s virtual spaces, she has shown up to sessions ready to learn, lead math games, navigate and master her anxiety, and remain hopeful about her future. This is a step forward toward the transformational growth our program is built around.