Graduating Greyhounds 2014: Brenda von Rautenkranz, M.S. in Pastoral Counseling

Brenda von Rautenkranz will use her Master of Science in pastoral counseling to practice equine therapy in Maryland

By Matthew D. Kudler, '06

Brenda von Rautenkranz is, among other things, a teacher, a fitness trainer, a television talk show host, and a motivational speaker.

Soon she will add licensed mental health therapist to that list. Brenda will receive her Master of Science in pastoral counseling during Loyola’s Commencement exercises on May 17.

She is inspired by all she has learned and excited to begin her next chapter.

Photo submitted by Brenda von Rautenkranz

Why did you choose the M.S. in pastoral counseling program at Loyola?

The reason I chose the M.S. pastoral counseling program over other programs in this field was to learn how to help clients connect with their spirituality through the unique experiences, worldviews, theological perspectives, and cultural expectations that make up who they are.

Moreover, each client brings to therapy a set of assumptions, values, religious beliefs, and perspectives that are different from my own. I have gained much from the insights and knowledge of, as well as the wisdom inherit in, various religions.

Pastoral counseling is defined as spiritual growth, which aims to enhance our hope, meaning, values, inner freedom, faith systems, and peak experiences, as well as our relationship with God. People hope there are answers for the hurts, difficulties, and challenges they face.

Given your background, what made you want to go into counseling?

When I look at my life, I have made it in the professional world: I was a teacher; I own my own fitness business; I am a motivational speaker; and I produce and host two cable TV shows that focus on being physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit.

I have always wanted to know how better to help people emotionally as well as physically, especially to help people who are hurting, stuck, or broken.

My background degree in teacher education enables me to help children and families navigate their lives in positive and healthy ways. Even though I had a strong understanding of human development and cognitive stages, I needed more knowledge and understanding of the ways to help clients on a deeper emotional level.

In the last three years, during which I have been in the pastoral counseling program, I have been blessed by God to use my gifts to help others. As a pastoral counselor, my mission is to make a difference in people’s lives and help others.

Following graduation, you plan to work with horses and use your degree for a practice called ‘equine therapy’? What, exactly, is equine therapy?

I have a background in horsemanship and I have been training and breeding horses for over 30 years. Equine therapy is the discipline of using horses as a means to provide metaphoric experiences to promote emotional growth. It has been effective with clients who manifest depression, attention-deficit disorder, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, autism, and other disorders and disabilities.

The horses also provide an excellent way for troubled youth to react when they are otherwise therapy-resistant. When students are beginning a horse therapy program, the instructor will have the horse stand in the middle of the arena. The youth are tasked with getting the horse to move outside of a large circle without touching the animal. Many students clap, whistle, or yellto no avail.

The lessons they learn through this exercise is that when othersbe they parents, friends, counselors, or associatestry to get us to do something, the best way is not by yelling, clapping, or forcing; and students learn the best way to lead a horse is not in front or behind the animal, but by its side as an equal.

Equine therapy provides a hands-on approach that challenges people to look at themselves and the world around them in a new way.

People who have struggled to make progress or achieve their treatment goals have made significant breakthroughs with the aid of equine therapy. Research has shown equine therapy lowers blood pressure and heart rate, alleviates stress, and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also helps people struggling with addictions and mental health disorders develop necessary skills for healthy living.

This type of experiential therapy produces deep emotions, which support the process of self-discovery; the raw and unstructured product is a part of the therapeutic process. The use of horses gives self-awareness, insight, and understanding, which can be achieved by delving into our emotions. The feelings of anger, grief, fear, joy, and happiness are the tunnel through which we must pass to attain self-awareness, understanding, and wholeness.

What inspired you to want to practice equine therapy?

As strange as it may seem, adding a horse to the psychotherapy equation was just the missing piece I was looking for!

Since I am familiar and have a passion for horses, I can recognize and understand the power of horses and how they can influence people in a powerful way. This is an experiential modality, which means clients learn about themselves by participating with horses, and then processing behaviors, thoughts, and patterns of daily coping. This type of equine therapy does not involve riding horses; instead, it involves setting up ground activities involving the horses that require the client to apply certain skills.

How did Loyola prepare for this next step in your busy and diverse career?

The exceptional education I received at Loyola gave me the confidence and knowledge to step outside the box of the regular path of psychotherapy. I received superior support from the M.S. pastoral counseling staff, which helped me direct my inner desires to pursue this experiential approach to psychotherapy.

I am excited to use the powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, families, and groups. The program was aligned to the rigorous Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP) standards, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Brenda lives in Sykesville, Md. She is the owner of Fit for Life Personal Training. Before coming to Loyola, she received her B.S. in education from Georgia Southern University. Learn more about Brenda’s life and work.

To read more stories about this year’s Graduating Greyhounds, visit our 2014 Commencement page.

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