Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cottonwood Tucson's "Equilabyrinth"

Creating a labyrinth to aid healing


Cottonwood Tucson's labyrinth
Four years ago, our staff decided to install a 40' Classical-style labyrinth for patients use at Cottonwood.  From its inception, the labyrinth was a community project.  Our landscaping crew cleared the area. Our clinical staff chose the design and sliced it into the dirt. Our patients lined the labyrinth design with rocks and christened its completion with a silent walk. Since the, the labyrinth has become woven into the fabric of our milieu.  Trauma therapists have conducted 1:1 sessions inside the labyrinth, helping patients develop symbols and metaphors to aid in their healing.  Primary therapists facilitate group walks into the labyrinth, exploring the metaphor of a shared journey.  Patients often utilize the labyrinth ceremoniously, to commemorate important events.  Most recently, a group of patients walked the labyrinth on September 11, to reflect on how the events of that day shaped their lives.

Now an equine-labyrinth graces Cottonwood


Cottonwood staff leading horses through the equine-labyrinth
This year, our staff chose a more ambitious project of installing a labyrinth large enough to accommodate horses. The equine-labyrinth is a Roma-quadrant design that measures 200' by 100'.  The pathways are seven feet wide, large enough for two horses and two handlers to pass.  This labyrinth was constructed around the concept of sustainability.  Our goal was to cooperate with the land, minimize our destruction of growing plants and maximize the natural beauty of living things.  After our clinical staff sliced the design into place, patients were invited to gather rocks from the surrounding area and place them into the pathways.  The equine-labyrinth was christened by six staff members during a staff training who led our entire herd of horses into the labyrinth design and out again.

Our "equilabyrinth"


Yes, even a donkey loves our "equilabyrinth"
Like our first labyrinth, the "equilabyrinth" has become an integral part of our clinical program, providing our patients with a unique opportunity to walk a spiritual path in the company of a 1,000 pound, sentient partner.  Horse handling skills are taught throughout the patients' stay and a certain degree of competency is required for this activity.  Leading a horse, or donkey, through the labyrinth requires negotiation, trust, cooperation and confidence. For many patients it is a perfect way to celebrate the completion of treatment and honor the friendship they developed with their chosen horse.

One Sweetwater adolescent walked Chocolate Heart into the Labyrinth and left a goodbye letter to drugs in the center.  Her special bond with the spirited thoroughbred became a metaphor for her own strength, beauty and acceptance of herself.  This young lady is doing well today and reports back frequently on her progress, her messages always include a special hello to "Chocolate."

Meet Laura Brinckerhoff and Charles Gillispie


Both Laura Brinkerhoff and Charles Gillispie work with Cottonwood Tucson's patients everyday throughout the year. They authored this post to share with prospective patients and family members the healing power of our labyrinth and our "equilabyrinth." 

Laura Brinckerhoff, MA, LPC, CEIP-MH
Equine-Assisted Mental Health Professional
Member of the Clinical Team since 2003


Laura Brinckerhoff
Laura is a native of Tucson and, for the past five years, has run Cottonwood’s Equine-Assisted Mental Health Program where she combines a lifelong connection with horses, and a keen appreciation their therapeutic potential.  She received a B.A. from the University of Arizona followed by an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College, where she is now a faculty member.  Laura is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor and a recognized expert in the field of equine-assisted counseling

Charles Gillispie, MFA, LISAC

Program Specialist
Member of the Clinical Team since 1993


Charles Gillispie
Charles Gillispie is a licensed independent substance abuse counselor with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He is an active member of the National Association of Poetry Therapy and has published articles describing his work at Cottonwood in Addiction Professional, Arizona Together, Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Therapeutic Recreation Journal. He has received two professional development grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts in support of his work with therapy and writing. Charles is a founding member of the San Pedro River Pilgrims, a backpacking club dedicated to the pursuit of spirituality through wilderness adventure.


Contact Cottonwood Tucson


If you have questions about Cottonwood Tucson, our behavioral health center and holistic drug rehab treatment facility, please visit our website or call us at 800-877-4520.

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CARF - Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation FacilitiesNATSAP | National Association of Therapeutic Schools and ProgramsNBCCNAADAC