October 22, 2017

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Horses as Healers: Dr. Mary Vomacka on Her Passion for Psychiatry

Dr. Vomacka in her officeAs a psychiatrist, Dr. Mary Vomacka knows her role in patient’s lives often goes beyond the walls of her office. With a practice unlike others in the system, Dr. Vomacka combines medication management and therapy to help her patients reach milestones in mental health. She has also taken a keen interest in a therapy that diminishes boundaries in an nontraditional way, through the power of horses. With a passion for people and a desire to heal, Dr. Vomacka strives to bring peace of mind to her patients.

Finding Her Way

Although she considers herself blessed to have found a profession she loves, psychiatry was not Dr. Vomacka’s first career. In college, she majored in both pre-medicine and music before realizing she would have to choose just one. “I was practicing piano six hours a day and trying to do biology labs at the same time,” Dr. Vomacka recalled. “My teacher told me I had a gift for music and I could develop my ability or do something else.” It was then that she chose music.

As a pianist, Dr. Vomacka performed for several years where she had many unique and unforgettable opportunities that she reflects on fondly. However, through her performing years Dr. Vomacka knew there was something music couldn’t offer her. “I missed working with people,” she said. “I decided to go back to med school to fulfill my passion for helping others.” This was the beginning of Dr. Vomacka’s journey into the world of mental health.

Creating Connections

Dr. Vomacka has worked at ACMC since 2012 but has been active in mental health for more than 20 years. Her practice consists of adult patients suffering from a multitude of conditions associated with emotional and mental disorders.

While faced with many challenges, Dr. Vomacka finds great joy in the connections she has made with her patients. “It amazes me that I can develop a trusting relationship where I can truly understand what my patients are experiencing,” Dr. Vomacka reflected. These interactions are what she utilizes to encourage healing. “I am a guide and my patients do the work,” Dr. Vomacka said. “We establish certain goals and work on the things that they feel internally they need to change.”

With each condition varying drastically, Dr. Vomacka spends an abundance of time ensuring each patient feels at ease. She stresses how psychiatry is unique because of the complexity of each case, making it difficult to be restricted to a schedule. With fear of hindering progress towards trust and growth, Dr. Vomacka aims to never push a patient through too quickly.

As the need for mental health rises, Dr. Vomacka hopes the progress her patients make with her will be shared with the people they encounter. “With today’s technology, we are forgetting how to communite and how to listen,” she explained. “I hope my patients go into the world and use the skills they gained during therapy.”

As the sole psychiatrist currently in the ACMC system, Dr. Vomacka also appreciates her strong support system of colleagues and staff. “I love the fact that I can work in a facility that I have access to various specialists,” she said.

As her experience in mental health grows, Dr. Vomacka has also become fascinated with the healing power of one type of nontraditional therapy. Utilizing her love for horses, Dr. Vomacka has become captivated by equine therapy and the possibilities it holds for her patients.

Horses as Healers

It all began at a seminar in the Rocky Mountains. Dr. Vomacka knew very little about equine therapy but, as a horse owner herself, she longed to see its power of healing. After watching someone have a panic attack on the mountain while riding, Dr. Vomacka was inspired. Although she loves therapy and working with people, Dr. Vomacka admits the time it takes to perform traditional treatment can be consuming. “I saw this method of therapy working in such a quick manner,” Dr. Vomacka explained. “It cuts through barriers and brings the main issues to the forefront.”
Equine therapy differs from therapeutic riding in that 95% of the process is done off the horse. A mental health professional and horse specialist utilize the horse to identify what challenges and symptoms are associated with the patient’s condition. Activities are then set up for the patient to work through the issues they encounter in their daily lives. “It is between the horse and the person to work through the obstacle whatever it may be,” Dr. Vomacka said.

After witnessing its unique benefits, Dr. Vomacka began her horseback riding retreat utilizing equine therapy in 2001, “Healer in the Mountain”. Vomacka and an associate led 12 people on a week of horseback riding at a remote ranch in the Rockies. Their trip featured a daily three-hour trail ride through the rocky terrain along with therapy sessions. “You develop confidence because horses are big, social and most importantly, honest,” Dr. Vomacka described. “They give back to you what they are sensing from the rider which is what makes equine therapy so powerful.”

With time restraints and the ranch associated with the program closing, “Healer in the Moutain” came to an end in 2003. Although she is not currently practicing equine therapy, Dr. Vomacka looks forward to returning to her work with horses in the future. “I know the power of equine therapy and I believe in it so strongly,” Dr. Vomacka said. “It is a way of cutting through all of the defense mechanisms.”

Whether in her office or on the ranch, Dr. Vomacka has impacted the lives of many through the connections she makes in therapy.Dr. Vomacka riding a horse.