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A Labor of Love

Stephanie Melmer is a LCSW that specializes in Mental Health Counseling at Billings Clinic and provides therapy sessions at Chinook Horses.

During a therapy session, 14-year-old Stephanie was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, she immediately responded with “I want to do what you do…help people heal so they can be happy”. As she went on to college, she majored in Political Science with the goal of changing the world. She later realized that in order to make a bigger impact, she needed to help heal our society one person at a time-  “When an individual is stable mentally, emotionally and physically, the families and communities are better, meaning we have a kinder country and world”. That led Stephanie to pursue her Master Degree in Social Work from Walla Walla University in Billings, Montana.

One day, Stephanie’s colleague shared Chinook Horses’ mission, and she knew she would be a great addition to the team. However, she had never gotten trained on the EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association) program and wasn’t sure how to proceed with it; until Abigail, Founder & Director, invited her to the barn to do a session. Needless to say, Stephanie fell in love with the program and became EAGALA certified in three months through a scholarship provided by Chinook Horses. She has since become an invaluable member of the Chinook Horses’ team.

Stephanie knew that traditional therapy is not for everyone, thus wanted the community to experience equine therapy for its gentle, yet powerful results. She started drafting a plan to provide respite and free group therapy to coworkers from Billings Clinic who as healthcare employees continue to be affected by COVID-19. Stephanie shared the plan with Abigail, the founding director, who happened to be thinking the same need existed, in October of 2021. They worked collaboratively with several departments from the Billings Clinic, and in mid-December Chinook Horses along with Stephanie were able to hold the first group session for healthcare employees. In addition, partial funding was contributed by the Billings Community Foundation and from Chinook Horses’ donors.

Stephanie shares that most groups that participate in the session realize they have missed the camaraderie with other departments and that most of them are feeling and thinking the same, despite their differences. “It is very empowering to see a group connecting with each other; while bringing healing by partnering with a horse. This couldn’t be replicated in an office setting”.

As an ambassador of the program, Stephanie would like to share her passion for equine therapy by providing group sessions to all healthcare employees. For those that work alongside her, she undoubtedly favors working with the two mini donkeys, Selby & Jeb.

Thank you to the Billings Clinic Foundation, Information and Technology department, Marketing, Employee Assistance Program and Employee Health for being the bridge of providing an opportunity to explore strategies for self-care and mental health hygiene! And thank you Stephanie for your work with Chinook Horses, we are grateful for you!


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