An eight-week programme of donkey-assisted therapy has given Gillian, who lives with social anxiety, the courage to overcome some of her fears in everyday life.
Gillian was introduced to The Donkey Sanctuary Manchester via Breakthrough UK, a charity directly supporting disabled individuals towards independence and employment.
Gillian struggles with social anxiety, which can make everyday situations challenging and stressful and meeting new people particularly difficult. Her support worker at Breakthrough UK identified that our donkey-assisted therapy programme may be just what Gillian needed to help increase her confidence, improve key life skills and become more independent.
Experiences and challenges
Animal lover Gillian was excited by the opportunity, and agreed to attend an eight-week programme at the Manchester sanctuary. Her first challenge was to overcome her nervousness of using public transport to get there, but with support from Breakthrough UK and the incentive to see the donkeys, Gillian made it safely to the sanctuary (which then became easier as the weeks went on).
Each donkey-assisted therapy session gave Gillian a different experience, and presented her with new challenges. For example, during one session she was asked to help pick out a donkey’s hooves (Joey), which meant approaching him, asking him to lift each of his legs and removing dirt and stones from the bottom of his hooves. Gillian was scared, but managed to keep going to complete the task in the end – proving that she could make it out the other side of her fear. That confidence didn’t exist before - the experience with Joey will have helped Gillian to overcome her fears in everyday life and approach difficult and challenging situations in the future. As Gillian said herself: “When you really want to do something, you have to push yourself, and you can be calm when you want to be - even when it’s difficult”.
Gillian spent time with various donkeys, and gradually became more confident around them. She said: “I really like Hector, because he's small like me! He's funny, at one point it was like he moved the other donkeys out of the way to be near me, like he wanted to be with me, which was nice”.
It is important to us that the donkeys also benefit from these interactive sessions, and we always watch their behaviour to help us understand how the donkey may be feeling. We allow the donkeys to choose whether they interact or not, and give them the freedom to exhibit their natural behaviour.
Gillian’s time spent with the donkeys and attending the sessions has made a positive impact on her life. Even once the sessions had ended, she came back to visit the sanctuary during their annual summer fair event – something which would have previously caused her anxiety. Her confidence has increased, and by pushing herself outside of her comfort zone and using public transport, she has become more independent. Gillian said: “I'm always thinking too much and the donkeys helped me to keep calm - I’m trying to be calmer now. I feel happy, and the experience has made me want to go out and do things.”
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