ELVERSON — Spirited Breeze Care Farm offers individual and family therapy outdoors, which often includes sessions with the animals or gardens on the farm.
“The opportunities to engage with nature in a unique and therapeutic way could include a hike in the woods with the horses or dogs, sitting with the sheep, watching the koi while listening to the waterfall, or digging in the dirt in our garden. The sessions will be tailored to your unique needs. In addition to our animal based experiences, we also offer art therapy as an alternative means of expression,” according to its website Spiritedbreezecarefarm.com.
Together, co-founders Kathleen Leonard, LCSW and her husband Richard Hohner, LCSW have almost 50 years of combined clinical experience in working with children, adolescents, adults and families.
“Together we have worked to build this tranquil and warm environment for individuals to explore their wellness journey,” said Leonard. “All of our animals are rescues or donated to the farm.”
Spirited Breeze Care Farm, located at 211 Blue Rock Hill in Elverson, has seven horses, five sheep, three dogs, seven cats, 35 chickens (including three roosters) and koi.
“We are working hard to get the farm and the critters ready to start working with individuals, couples, and families in September,” she said.
Attached to their home on the farm are two large decks beside a babbling waterfall and overlook nine acres of manicured fairytale-like setting. The barn, stable, corral, sheep pen, chicken coop, gardens, and pasture are surrounded by trees and trails backing up to state game lands.
They were familiar with the concept of care farms, a popular therapy growing in Europe with just a few in the United States. Care farming provides supervised, structured therapeutic programs of activities such as caring for livestock and tending agriculture, with therapeutic interventions.
“Fifty percent or more people see their primary care doctors seeking help with psychosocial problems, anxiety, depression and the like,” said Leonard. “Here, those in need of support or guidance discover a world of ways to address these needs. Alternative therapies like art therapy, care farming, and animal-assisted therapy can provide great benefits in a fun, safe, and therapeutic environment.”
Hohner is an experienced therapist working with veterans and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Leonard works with primary care physicians and is looking to expand that part of their practice.
They are reaching out to Berks, Lancaster, Chester and Montgomery schools to help with autistic, developmental or emotionally challenged, brain-injured students and others. Their therapy dog Sully is already a regular at Twin Valley Elementary School.
Modalities like art therapy, animal-assisted therapy and care farming take the pressure off and take the individual out of the traditional office into the safe spaces of the studio, the farm, or nature. The farming component, both planting and harvesting in raised beds, gives a tactile feel of the earth and a personal fulfillment of growth.
Marilyn Traeger, K-Pets certified, a neighbor, volunteer, and former dog groomer, is at home with the farm’s licensed therapy dogs including Sully, a French Bulldog, who has his Canine Good Citizen certificate along with three trick dog titles. Bugsy, a collie mix, likes to play tug of war. Lyra, recused from the streets of Brazil, is so lovable, coaxing out the shyness from clients. Numerous cats lounge around the farm including Kinzer, a trained therapy cat.
“Jackson, our Pomeranian rescued from a puppy mill 12 years ago, is a very important member of the team. With a tough beginning not trusting of other animals and humans, today Jack is affectionate, and his calming presence and cute looks make him is a big hit,” said Leonard snuggling him in her arms.
While the animals and the outdoors are therapeutic, they also work with certified art therapist Jennifer Searing, LPC, ATR-BC, CBIS who works with adults, adolescents, and children, both individually and in groups. She is also a certified brain injury specialist having worked extensively with individuals learning to live with a traumatic brain injury.
Searing explained art therapy as “integrative methods, engaging the mind, body, and spirit in ways other than verbal articulation alone, kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic opportunities invite alternative modes of receptive and expressive communication, circumventing the limitations of language.”
More simply put, she added, “It is a way of processing thought and feeling through a mix of verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. It is a process or journey and what you learn along the way.”
For example, Searing will be working with the sheep, spinning the wool and letting people use it creatively in their art.
The newest team member is Heather A. Mayer, BA, PATH Certified, OK Corral Certified, who will assist with the horse sessions. With 31 years of professional riding experience, she is currently a riding instructor at Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern. She is currently in a master’s program at Alvernia University for occupational therapy.
Mayer is inspired by the Care Model of Therapy because it brings people back to a natural element, away from screens and other distractions. Her personal journey with horses and nature helped her to overcome her own past traumas.
The farm’s horses include a thoroughbred, a Spanish white Arabian horse named Lola, and her two-year-old daughter. To experience these horses is an almost spiritual unspoken bond with animals, their gentleness is remarkable.
Leonard explained how much their friends and family enjoyed spending time on the farm and inspired the creation of a care farm.
“We had forgotten just how relaxing it can be to sit on the deck or by the pond listening to the sounds of nature. But when a friend commented on the sense of peace and security they found in doing this, we knew that we had a unique opportunity to share this experience with others,” she said. “And, as two people who spent the last 25 years providing therapy in a sterile office, we knew that this could be a better way to engage others in their wellness journey.”