At the psychosomatic clinic Kloster Dießen am Ammersee, sheep participate in group therapy. Patients with psychosis, depression, or other mental illnesses can decide for themselves whether they want to participate in animal-assisted therapy. However, for young people with media addiction, outdoor therapy is mandatory, says Daniel Avcharian Olsovsky, who heads the therapy. “Young people have lost touch with the analog world and nature,” Afsharian Olsovsky says. Patients have to solve various tasks in small groups: for example, a small flock of sheep is transported from one place to another. “Sheep are not cuddly toys that you have to pet all the time,” Afsharian Olsovsky says. It is much more about patients’ perception and thinking about their behavior in social groups.
The offer of the psychosomatic clinic in Dessen also includes a visit to a beehive. Beekeeper Christine Hildebrandt leads this form of animal-assisted therapy with a therapist. The main thing is to calm down and carefully monitor what the bees are doing. Patients are impressed by their way of life. If the hive is opened, they are put on protective clothing so that they do not get stung. “Most of them like to look at the bee colony and therefore get directly to the beehive, and some prefer to watch from afar,” Hildebrandt says. Approaching bees requires courage. Therapy is a good exercise in overcoming their fears, especially for patients with anxiety disorders.
Anahid Klotz runs the Asinella donkey farm in Pähl. In addition to therapy, their donkeys are also used in the fields of entertainment and education. Klotz works with external therapists to work with clients who have anxiety disorders or traumatic experiences. Mentally ill people give donkeys motor tasks: the animals must jump over obstacles, pass a path or stop at a certain signal. Success strengthens patients’ self-esteem and also trains the ability to communicate nonverbally. In patients and patients suffering from depression, treatment is aimed at awakening the flavor of life. “Even the outward appearance is attractive with their cuddly bodies and sweet faces.” At first, many customers were afraid of the size of the animals, but then they realized how confident the donkeys are.
Julia Maris offers individual and small group lessons for children and young people with social or emotional needs. On the Leiten therapy farm in Feldkirchen-Westerham, she raises donkeys, sheep, chickens and even deer. However, she has the most experience working with ponies. Meris has been working with animals since 2017, in addition to training as a physical therapist in psychotherapy, he completed additional training as an animal-assisted therapy specialist. Maris reports that half the hours are usually used for animal care: pet grooming, brushing and combing. “Patients learn to take responsibility,” Meres says. However, the wide back of the fanny pony also invites you to allow yourself to be carried or to try smaller tricks. Children with attachment disorders will learn to rebuild trust in others through close physical contact with ponies.
“A horse is a flying animal. So it’s basically very sensitive,” says Judith Grossman, who has been using horses in therapy for 13 years. Thus, it provides patients with a sensitive feedback partner that directly reflects the behavior of the other person. Großmann runs a psychotherapy clinic in Riem. During treatment, patients either drive the horses or let them run freely. Großmann is also a riding teacher and allows their clients to ride horses. “Riding a horse fulfills the basic human need to be carried. It can evoke memories of the womb.” For adults, encounters with a horse are incorporated into talk therapy. Children often come only to the horses. “They are happy when they don’t have to say much. Once they are on the horse’s back, they usually chat voluntarily.”