Experiential Therapy

Discovery Ranch is dedicated to every aspect of the therapeutic experience. We have researched the best outlets and atmospheres conducive to a healthy healing program. Our students are afforded the best possible care and individualized therapy plan. With our varying types of experiential therapy, we provide a dedicated team of therapists and staff to help your son on his path to recovery and healing.


We give boys the information. Then we give them the experience, We want that experience to innately teach them as much as possible, naturally. Then we take that moment, and we add to it by giving them a mature perspective on that experience, and help them understand the principle...

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    Application of Experiential Learning

    Beyond the details and workings of Discovery Ranch becomes the main reason for it all. We are dedicated to teaching and healing, applicable to the real world. We want your son to take everything he has felt, learned, observed, struggled with, and triumphed over back to his everyday life. The experiential activities of our program are specifically tailored with this goal in mind. Experiential learning is all about observation and application; two important characteristics in your son’s therapeutic treatment plan. Whatever activity your son is participating in, you can be sure that he is learning valuable lessons beyond the activity itself.


    Equine Therapy


    One of the main components of Discovery Ranch is equine therapy. With trained professionals, your son will take part in 12-16 weeks of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). The combination of horse professional and therapist will help guide your son on the proper therapeutic path. Our students receive proper and appropriate feedback during each therapy session, guiding them through each step of the treatment plan. Our program consists of three main parts, Ground Tasks, Colt Training, and Horsemanship. Each section consists of different tools your son will learn to better himself outside of the therapy sphere.

    Ground Tasks

    Ground therapy consists of working with a group of other students to complete varying tasks interacting with the horses. These interactions provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each teen. In order to take care of a horse, one must have compassion while being assertive. Horses can be stubborn and often have a will of their own. With proper direction, your son can learn to bond with the horses in a meaningful way.

    Ground tasks allow each student the benefit of immediate feedback and support when needed. This unique setting creates the ideal backdrop for changing behaviors because of its in-the-moment discussions. Our professionals are there to understand each boy so the therapist may apply that to their treatment regimen.


    Colt Training

    At Discovery Ranch, your son will get the opportunity to train new colts. This experience has several therapeutic applications. Colts require specific training, and with the help of our dedicated team, your son will learn the parallels in teaching new colts and teen behaviors. Your son will have the opportunity to discuss the thoughts and feelings the horse is experiencing, and the way these thoughts and feelings relate to adolescents.

    There are certain motivations, fears, and perceptions that exist in a young horse. The goal of colt training is to show your son that experiences shape perceptions, but oftentimes those perceptions might be skewed and lead to inappropriate conclusions and decisions. Colts are new to the world, therefore their experiences are also brand new.

    We teach your son not to change the behaviors of the horses, but to change their perceptions. The colt is given guidance and appropriate pressure; however, the horse is responsible for his behavior. This, in turn, teaches our students to rethink their perceptions. Dealing with, often stubborn, horses, allows your son to make parallels in their own troubled decision-making. Changing perceptions can change unwanted behaviors.



    As a student at Discovery Ranch, your son will have the chance to learn the basics of western riding and training. He will develop the proper attitude to have while training a horse. Horses respond to compassion and assertiveness; two qualities your son will master while at Discovery Ranch. Your son will also gain an understanding of nonverbal communication as horses communicate in a unique way. Because horses continually test the limits and boundaries of their riders- like teens and parents- your son will be in a position of authority and responsibility while he teaches his horse how to behave appropriately. To do this, your son must learn to give up a degree of control.

    Horsemanship teaches your son about the complicated inner workings of parent/son relationships. It might not seem like an equal parallel, but there are many base similarities between a willful horse with a mind of its own and a struggling teen. Our students come to us with all kinds of anger and aggression; they are used to using relationships to get what they want. Horsemanship corrects this behavior. Horses don’t respond to any of these types of interactions, but respond well to assertiveness, patience, and compassion.

    By learning how to care for horses, your son will learn how to rebuild his relationship with human beings. The goal is not simply to teach him how to maneuver the horse, but to help him identify and face his emotions. Your son will begin to understand that he is responsible for his life and his current and future relationships. As horse trainers often say, “Every horse is responsible for his own feet.” Your son will find his feet by learning how to set appropriate limits and establish healthy boundaries.

    Calf Adoption

    As a working ranch, Discovery Ranch provides an amazing opportunity for our students to raise male calves from local dairy ranches. Because male calves don’t produce milk, they are often discarded by dairy ranches. This gives our students the chance to save these animals and give them the proper care they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

    The boys must feed the calves three times a day: morning, noon, and night. In icy snow, rain, or hot weather, your son will have to go outside to care for his calf. By caring for the calf, he will focus on something other than himself. The greatest lesson your son will learn from caring for his calf is empathy. Our boys learn quickly how their calves, wobbly and new to the world, depend solely on them. This level of responsibility, caring for something other than themselves, emphasizes the importance of changing a teen’s selfish behaviors.

    The nature of caring for a calf is also dealing with the possibility of death and eventual inevitability of loss from selling the calf. Calves are very fragile for the first two months of their lives, and even with the best of care, sometimes die. At five months old, the calves are sold to local ranchers. This process of losing something one cares about, teaches our boys valuable lessons. Our therapists ensure that your son has a solid support system when coping with these losses. Learning to deal with emotional stress is a powerful tool in the therapeutic arsenal. Your son will experience the loss, process it, learn from it, then apply it to their everyday life and relationships.

    The Calf Rescue Program is a way for your son to experience difficult emotions in a safe, supportive environment. He will learn the value and joy that comes from caring for someone or something. After participating in the program, your son will better understand grief, loss, attachment, and detachment. That greater understanding will help him to relate better with the people in his life and provide him with the skills necessary to cope with emotionally complex situations.

    Our calf program mimics the role of parent and child with our students and the calves. By being the parent, your son learns sacrifice and service. He comes to understand the role of independence and its proper place in parent/child relationships. Caring for the calves helps your son to navigate loss and change and is proven to be a crucial aspect of teen treatment. The program provides a safe environment where our students can work through his fears and emotions and build resiliency.

    Recreation Therapy

    Our group therapy consists of weekly experiential activities that extend the reach of office-only therapy. When you choose Discovery Ranch, you are aware of the amazing therapeutic power that exists beyond traditional therapy. Your son will be in a group of other students led by an experiential coordinator, a primary therapist, and several mentors. This close contact interaction with the professionals allows your son to have a constant support system where he may continually receive feedback that will aid him in his healing process.

    Students of Discovery Ranch participate in several outdoor experiential activities designed to amplify the healing experience. Some activities your son will be able to participate in are ropes courses, rappelling, canoeing, cross country skiing, geo-caching, and other relevant wilderness opportunities. Your son will share and discuss each experience with his therapist. Then together they will examine how the obstacles he encountered are similar to those he faces every day. As a result of these activities, he may discover new interests and abilities to enjoy when he returns home. This type of group therapy is a perfect way for your son to learn responsibility and accountability. By placing our students in outdoor, vigorous activities, we are able to ascertain the motivations and drive of each of our boys. We come to understand them so we may apply this to their treatment regimen.


    Music and Expressive Arts

    It’s not all grit and dirt at Discovery Ranch. Students have the opportunity to perform a musical or variety show for their parents. Many of our boys have never taken part in this sort of thing before and it’s a big step out of their comfort zones. This challenge is a reward in and of itself. Performances represent weeks of dedication and hard work, allowing the boys to showcase to their parents something they can be immensely proud of.

    These musicals teach our students the value of teamwork. “A big benefit of [doing the variety show] is helping the boys come together to learn how to work together, even in an environment where they are not entirely comfortable. They learn to come together as a team and make something beautiful,” said Kate Hartley. Kate is a theater major and teaches drama at Discovery Ranch. “It takes a lot of work and helps them to learn discipline. I think it also helps them learn a lot of respect as well.”

    Beyond teamwork, participating in a musical production can help your son develop and embrace their individuality. Once our students accept the role they are given, they really start to bring it to life, reveling in this new experience. Music has a real healing effect. Our current HR director and former performance director Jake Galovich witnessed this power first hand. “Music is an outlet. It is a way for them to forget about what problems are going on in their lives, and allow them to focus on something completely different,” said Jake. “A lot of times doing something like that allows them to look back on themselves and see what they need to work on. They can see that by portraying a whole different character or by listening to music and letting music calm their mind. Music can be a tool for therapy. It is pretty incredible.”

    Music and Technology Program

    Another opportunity our students have to use music as a healing outlet is through our Music and Technology Program. Your son will learn how to compose, record, and edit music; he’ll learn mixing and automation, music notation, live instrument recording, and more. This program provides an excellent creative way for your son to develop a healthy relationship with technology. Teens are often so engrossed in video games and social media and don’t know the importance of unplugging. The goal of learning this new skill is to teach your son that technology can be used as a tool and not just a mind-wasting vice.


    Peer Leadership Program

    Learning responsibility is a major aspect of living on a working ranch. Discovery Ranch’s Peer Leadership Program teaches our students the basic values of taking responsibility for themselves and the community around them. Your son will be given leadership opportunities throughout his time at Discovery Ranch. Our staff supervises our students, not the everyday minutia of ranch living. Students are put in charge of ranch chores and house chores teaching them valuable lessons on leadership and communication. They are responsible for making sure that work around the ranch gets done.

    The leadership program gives your son the chance to have a job on campus. Students fill out an application, find three references, and go through an interview process just like in real life. If chosen as a peer leader, your son will have meaningful opportunities to develop real-life applicable skills. Some jobs he might supervise are bottle preparation for calves, laundry, or other household chores. As a peer leader, your son would delegate work assignments to a team of his peers. He will report on his team’s progress to mentors and also participate in weekly leadership training.

    The nature of being a leader comes with challenges and rewards. Like in a real job, peer leaders get three warnings before they are fired from their position. They are able to hire an assistant as well. Like most teenagers choosing their best friend as a lab partner, oftentime a peer leader will choose their best friend as an assistant. Trying to “supervise” their friend makes for an interesting and valuable lesson in leadership. Our staff still works closely with our peer leaders, giving them necessary feedback and criticisms when applicable. Above all, our staff wants your son to be successful in every aspect of the therapy experience. Peer leadership gives him the chance to develop crucial real-life skills about responsibility and fair management.

    Forget About Me (FAM) Projects

    FAM project

    One of the best traits a teen can learn, is self-sacrifice. When teens put the needs of others above their own, they are more apt to become compassionate, thoughtful individuals. At Discovery Ranch, we developed our Forget About Me projects: an opportunity for our students to plan and take part in service projects. These projects are submitted by each student and can be anything from large-scale community projects to simple everyday service acts. Some notable past projects were building a house with Habitat for Humanity, making blankets for hospitals and homeless shelters, and creating a video documentary on eating disorders. We firmly believe that when our students look beyond their own wants and needs and are able to identify the wants and needs of others they will be better equipped to contribute to their families, friends, and community.

    Sand Tray Therapy

    Sand tray therapy might look like a play area for children, but it's proven to be a most successful form of experiential therapy. There’s something therapeutic and calming about sand; the Japanese created zen gardens filled with sand to help them to meditate and connect with the world around them. Sand therapy has a similar effect of opening up your son’s emotions in a safe environment. 

    During a sand therapy session, your son will choose from hundreds of small figurines spread out among a table high sandbox. The figures he chooses are representations of suppressed feelings or emotions. As your son interacts with the figures, the therapist will help him explore his emotions and struggles. He will develop new insights into his behaviors and learn how to correct any issues he is dealing with.