How Sarah DesJardins’ Personal Journey Informs Her Equine Therapy and Energy Healing Work
The original article was first published in Crazy Wisdom Community Journal Issue #77. Read it HERE.
By Hannah Stephenson • Photography by Mary Bortmas
(Editor’s Note: There are quite a number of equine therapists, and equine-facilitated learning stables, in southeastern Michigan. One of our writers, Hannah Stephenson, suggested profiling one of them—Sarah DesJardins, who is exceptional in that she is combining equine therapy and energy healing, and working with children, adults, and families. In addition to offering energy-based equestrian therapy, she is deeply committed to offering trauma recovery services. Healing from trauma is something DesJardins knows a good deal about. On her website, she notes that she is a survivor of incest, and suffered severe physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child, and she has had a long journey of healing. One of her life challenges has been living and working with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – how to understand it, how to construct a positive life with it, and how to help heal others. She is now doing ground-breaking work in this area, and readers can use the links we provide to hear her talk about it.
As Stephenson reports, DesJardins is highly attuned, and she brings to bear intuitive and psychic capacities in reading people, their energies, and their soul work. She has also spent many years as a gardener/landscaper, and she incorporates nature, cooking, laughter and love into her healing work as the owner of Souls at Play Center for Creative Therapy.
Now 57, she was raised in New York, spent her summers in northern Michigan, and spent a few years in schools in Vienna, Austria. For more than 30 years she has lived in the Ann Arbor area, and now resides in Manchester. She also has a son, who is 31.)
Down a country road and around a corner in lovely Manchester, hot tea and home-made chocolate-chip cookies (my favorite treats) awaited my arrival at Souls at Play Center for Creative Therapy. This was my third time seeing Sarah DesJardins. The first was at the Spring 2015 Holistic/Psychic Fair of Ann Arbor, where as a guest speaker, she presented a powerful seminar―“Psychic Awareness: The Silver Lining of Trauma”―maxing the venue’s capacity.
That experience prompted my arranging a field trip for a sample equine therapy session with my Onsted High School Psychology and Stress Management classes. While there, I watched an introverted young man (identified by the Special Education department as Emotionally Impaired) triumphantly manage a 1500 pound, 16 hands tall, magnificent Friesian horse under DesJardins’ coaching. His smile lasted for weeks.
This visit would be our first in-depth conversation about how DesJardins finds joy in “helping people connect with their soul and start expressing it.”
DesJardins earned her Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science from the University of Kentucky. After the sudden death of her husband in her 30s, she left the field and drew from her long-term love of gardens to begin a landscaping business. DesJardins’ inspiration for each garden created was to “make people feel better and promote healing for those who had suffered trauma or loss.” In the creation for others’ healing, her own was nurtured.
It was also during this time that DesJardins’ latent abilities to read animal, as well as human, conscious and subconscious energy surfaced. It began the exploration to help herself and others “listen to the Self where the heart is.” She has since provided psychic and energy sessions for 14 years. Add this to her total 25 years of horse experience and her 10 years offering equine therapy with Friesians, and it is understandable that she was able to synthesize her skills into a ground-breaking format.
Clients of DesJardins have ranged from individuals and couples to parents, families, foster children, horse owners, and corporate team builders. By helping clients to increase Self-awareness, they garner a multitude of gains: peace, increased self-esteem, improved relationships, self-empowerment, hope, and the opportunity to reconnect with the ability to play—which, DesJardins believes, most adults have lost. She has found “the most direct route to the soul is through the innocence and joy of play, hence, the name of the center.”
DesJardins wants “people to know the uniqueness they bring, and that the world is enriched by their presence.”
Helping people on their journey of healing from eating disorders, trauma, sexual abuse, and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a special passion. By offering experiential-based creative therapies, DesJardins creates a safe, empowering environment to nourish self-discovery needed for healing.
Jennifer DeVivo, LMSW, ACSW Executive Director of Fostering Futures in Ann Arbor refers clients to DesJardins. “I am a clinical social worker who often comes across very tough cases of trauma. In the instances when I have very complicated trauma in a child or teen, and an open, willing parent who is also willing to do their own work with their child, I want them to go see Sarah. I know she will provide a clearer picture of the core issues that are standing between the family and emotional peace. I also know she will walk through the hard work of change with her clients.”
DeVivo continued, “I also love to recommend Sarah to adults who feel they aren’t sure what to do next in their lives, but truly want to grow. Sarah’s perspective and information makes paths visible that were there all along but may have been hidden by our limiting beliefs about ourselves and life’s possibilities.”
Equine Assisted Learning
“Through her equine therapy, Sarah Desjardins quickly elucidated dynamics between my partner and me,” said Lorri Coburn, MSW, about a personal session with Sarah. “We were able to see and experience them first-hand, as the horse mirrored our issues. As a psychotherapist myself, it’s apparent the one session of Sarah’s equine therapy may be equal to several sessions of talk therapy.”
DesJardins explained that horses instinctually monitor their surroundings to stay safe and are thus experts at reading energy. Their behavior shows externally what you are feeling internally. Their reactions to a client’s instruction will reveal the client’s emotional, psychological, or sometimes even physical concerns. If a person gives up too easily, doubts their authority to direct others, or gives mixed signals—the horses respond accordingly.
During one session a 12-year-old boy was asked to back up a horse. The child verbalized the request, but internally doubted he could do it (he admitted during the debrief). The horse did not move. When told to repeat the command, the boy did verbalize again but with even less presence than before. Completely disinterested, the horse walked away. The child threw up his arms saying, “See I can’t do anything, let’s just go.” He too, began walking away.
The whole interaction demonstrated that the child had little faith in himself and as soon as uncomfortable feelings surfaced, instead of being persistent or asking for help, he abandoned the situation. Instead of moving through the feelings of not being acknowledged, nor heard, he quit to avoid facing failure. This is a sample of how Equine Therapy, or Equine Assisted Learning, can bring deep internal issues to light. Once identified, the internal beliefs can be addressed.
In this case, DesJardins reoriented the child to a place of self-empowerment. Together they discussed the feelings and the self-defeating thoughts he was telling himself. Given a way to revise his self-perspective to a positive self-image along with visualizing a successful completion of the task, the boy again attempted the activity. This time, the horse responded to his direction.
DesJardins combines her personal experience and horse training with the philosophies of holistic horsepersons such as Klaus Hempfling (a specialist in communication and human movement). Like Hempfling, DesJardins does not use any means of physical forcible control. Her voice, light touch, and energetic presence provides the guidance to the animals. She is also a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, which was established in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, to foster equine therapy.
Additional Therapeutic Approaches
Working with nature has long held healing power for both emotional and physical distress. Modern research studies have verified its ability to lower heart rate and anxiety, reduce depression, and improve nervous and immune responses. DesJardins pulled from her prior landscaping business experience to design a healing garden for the Center. She also developed nature-based activities to aid clients’ healing work and teach the interconnectivity of all.
In the kitchen, DesJardins has an open island for baking therapy and a side booth for crafts, art, eating, or whatever else is needed. “Kids often start singing as their inner baker comes out. They make huge cookies in whatever shape they want . . . and they are always happy when frosting cakes they themselves have made.” DesJardins explains, “Baking is very grounding and offers a range of benefits like simply allowing someone to make their own choices.”
“You also have to be friends with your food. People with anorexia often hate food because they view it as the enemy. Perfectionism traits are also challenged. When you are baking, you work through the process. If something doesn’t work out, then they learn to shake it off. Clients learn that the Universe always give you more opportunities, so you don’t have to be so hard on yourself.”
Learning about energy is also offered at the Center. “Energy is the language of the universe,” DesJardins offered. “We all communicate through energy whether we are aware of it or not.” Small children are often already perceptive to energy, but their adults may not understand or know how to talk about it with them. So, what does that look like?
During our interview, for example, while I paused to write some notes, suddenly DesJardins asked, “Are you alright?” I realized my mind had suddenly veered off conscious note-typing to tunnel vision thinking of a friend who might benefit from her services. DesJardins had sensed a subtle energy shift in the room, despite me not changing my expression, nor pausing in typing. Similar to cancer producing a smell, she shared that certain emotions (such as aggression) also produce a subtle energetic scent. This can alert would-be victims to dangerous situations developing and provide time to prepare.
DID and Trauma
“They may or may not come out. I can hear them—a couple of them are discussing it right now. They are curious about you.”
Then, just like that, there seemed to be a shimmer in front of DesJardins—like what you might see on a hot day when the air above a road becomes blurred. Her shoulders seemed broader and momentarily there was a different face in front of that of my host.
“Hello. My name is Willie.” The Scottish accent was clear, and the cadence paced with care. “Can you understand me all right?” He gestured with concern to the mask on his face. Of all of Sarah’s people, he has their respect as a wise elder. He had come in at birth with Sarah, knowing what was in store, and as her earliest personality, had chosen to help her in this lifetime.
He wanted to know why I was there talking with Sarah. What was my intention? He was patient and attentive. I explained I had known of Sarah for a while, had heard her speak. Now, I was in the position to help spread more awareness of her mission. With each sentence, I felt he was intensely weighing what I was saying. He was, as always, there to protect her.
I thanked him for coming out to speak to me, that I was humbled, and then… I started to tear up.
Disclosure: Tears just start flowing when I experience profound truths. In the presence of Willie—and he has his own presence—I felt extremely humbled and more than a bit awed. He was, and is, of higher energy. In those few moments, I have no doubt he energetically read more than I had said, but what I was able to vocalize was deemed sufficient.
In February of 2017, Michigan Healthy Minds television show hosted DesJardins to demystify Dissociative Identity Disorder. Additionally, she was a guest speaker at the 2021 Healing Together Conference sponsored by An Infinite Mind (in collaboration with Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital). (An Infinite Mind is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public and professional community about trauma-based dissociation with a primary focus on Dissociative Identity Disorder in an effort to dispel the myths and stigmas attached to it.) It is an annual event for people with DID, their allies, and clinicians. While there she was filmed for use in an upcoming documentary about DID.
In Psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines DID as the following: Two or more distinct identities must exist recurrently taking control of the person’s behavior. During that process, it creates an inability to recall events and information beyond ordinary forgetfulness. The behavior cannot be attributed to drug use, medication side-effects, religious culture, nor childhood fantasy play. Symptoms cause significant distress or impairment to daily functioning. Most sites estimate that 1-3% of the general population may have some form of DID. Additionally, many with PTSD also experience some form of dissociation.
A person with DID has two or more different and distinct personalities, the person’s usual “core” personality and what are known as alternate personalities, or “alters.” Recent research using EEGs provides proof of different consciousnesses in control of the brain during an alter’s experience. One such study provided data that brain activity normally associated with sight was absent while a blind alter was in control of the woman’s body even though her eyes were open. “Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.” (Kastrup, Crabtree, Kelly, 2018).
A second study at the Swinburne University of Technology of Australia strove to directly address the “pretending rationale” by critics. Using an EEG to monitor brain waves, Neuropsychologist Joseph Ciociari compared five patients with DID and their alters to “five age-matched professional actors each pretending to have a child alter.” While being attached to the EEG, each host and alters were asked to do simple cognitive tasks. Ciociari’s study observed “significant differences in the EEG coherence analysis between the true DID core personalities and their alters, but not between the actors and their pretended personalities” (Harrison). Just as multiple personalities have different nationalities, ages, genders, sexual orientations, eyeglass prescriptions, and values, science is now documenting each have distinct brainwaves and brain area utilizations.
“DID is the Self protecting the mind and body. It is actively the Universe at work.” DesJardins explained each personality, or aspect of the Self, has a different role. Some step in to take the abuse. Some step in to clean it up and hide all evidence of it from the core person when he or she comes back to a conscious state.
Why is DesJardins so passionate about aiding trauma and DID survivors? At the point where she felt she had healed from the loss of her husband, DesJardins recalled, “I wanted to be of even more service to the world. I put it out there to the Universe. It was then, I had a feeling that I had to go through something else, something big.” That something was learning about her 98 verified personalities.
Sipping the tea, DesJardins laughed. “People have said to me, ‘Really, Sarah? Why not make it 99 or an even 100?’” She sees the humor, but it also speaks to the larger problem—DID is still largely misunderstood by the average person, and, surprisingly, by many therapists. This is why DesJardins and her “people” (multiple personalities or aspects of her Self) endeavor to spread awareness, and also why her Center assists therapists in learning more about DID.
“Disorder” suggests there is a problem that needs fixing or inherent damage. Without hesitation, DesJardins explains, “It’s not a disorder. What was done to me was out of order. It’s a defense response.” For her personally, DID has not caused difficulty with creating or maintaining an effective, successful life. Instead, it saved her life.
“Most people think the outside world is unsafe, but for me, it was the inside,” DesJardins revealed. She paused, saddened to think of the number of young people and women at home with abusers during the Covid-19 shutdown…to think of the undoubtedly rising numbers of PTSD and DID during the months of the pandemic.
DesJardins says her DID healing process was orderly but anything from linear. Imagine being introduced to someone you had no knowledge of, and then they ask you to accept a totally different self-history than what you remember living through. Add to that having to accept that what you thought you knew, about people you were close to, was inaccurate. Sometimes, grossly inaccurate, and often disturbing.
In addition to learning a college episode of memory loss was due to an encounter with a serial rapist, DesJardins became painfully aware of being a survivor of incest—including severe sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. She even coined a word— heinosity— to describe the severity of the abuse because no adequate word exists in the dictionary.
She intimately understands the process of healing from trauma. Once she discovered her own DID, DesJardins then had to assist all of her “persons” through therapy. That is one aspect laypeople would not even fathom: healing from DID requires the personalities not just to share the trauma that happened to the core personality’s body, but for the personalities to come to terms and heal from what they endured for the sake of the main person. She explains, “As you uncover each piece it all makes more sense. It is a challenging process with lots of tears. To align with the Self, we weep.”
So how does she help others heal from trauma, PTSD, and DID? Through the various creative activities and talk, DesJardins “helps them trust themselves—which is everything. When you trust yourself, your life becomes peaceful. It is all about expressing the Self—the core of it. Shining. The more one expresses the Self (in a state of self-love and joy) the more you become your pure Soul.”
DesJardins added, “The cleaner and purer your energy is—you shine.” After traditional energy work, such as Reiki or Healing Touch, it is common for the faces of both the practitioner and the client to glow a bit. But here was a new layer: In releasing emotional or mental drag, the Self itself—not just the physical package—glows.
She continued, “Trust the Universe knows what it’s doing. For a person brought up to believe there is no God, no support, I can now see all the things leading up to my spiritual awakening.” When asked to clarify her spiritual understanding, DesJardins confidently stated: “There is the All. Call it Source, the Force, God. Call it what you like.” Her tone gave me a mental image of swatting away bothersome labels. “There is this energy that loves us, and we are always trying to align with it.”
DesJardins and her team explain the awareness that “All is the All―the Source.” Each personality is actually a part of DesJardins’ Self, or spirit, from a prior lifetime or from the original universal Source. Her team offered this metaphor: “If you pour water into a bottle, the water is in a new package [the bottle] for a moment in time.” Simultaneously, there may still be water in the original craft as in the bottle. In both locations, the water remains water. DesJardin’s 98 personalities are all still the Self that, in this lifetime, is known as Sarah DesJardins. Just as her internal Self is connected and part of the All. It is all fluid—like water—part of the flow of Source.
For years now, DesJardins and her people share co-consciousness. She never loses time nor has memory losses anymore. If clients are open to it, they have the option of working with DesJardins and her persons collaboratively. Depending upon the client’s needs, whichever personality can offer the most benefit will come forward to share. DesJardins explains, “I have access to all parts of myself—and they are useful to others. They each have such amazing abilities to share.”
Some intuitives refer to themselves as mediums who “channel” a specific spirit from other realms. DesJardins shrugged at the comparison. “You can say that I channel, but they are all me from prior lifetimes.” Naturally, she cautions, “Personalities do not want to be treated as a side show or expect to be trotted out as a circus act.”
Moving Forward at the Center
DesJardins shared her excitement over the progress made in expanding the center. It is evolving into The Souls at Play Center for Creative Therapy. It is “A non-profit center that will offer creative types of therapy (art, equine, garden, socialization therapies, and more).” The mission is to help people on their journey of healing and recovery from trauma and sexual abuse. Along with that? To help people diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
One of the new offerings at the center is a game that she and a client co-designed. It is a board game based on the metaphor of a journey. The client draws the path however desired. Next, DesJardins puts in spaces as safety nets or “soft spots” to land. Landing on those spots fosters conversation on how the client could create a soft spot (or comfort coping aid) in his or her own life. On other spots, the player has question prompts to answer. For DID clients, these help the child begin to talk about his or her personalities and how to interact with them. Example prompts might be, what foods do some parts like or dislike? What do you want people to know about having parts? DesJardins mentions, “It is very important to let them choose how to discuss or name their ‘parts’ or alters.”
Pattern and card questions can be modified for different levels, ages, and so on. In both the design creation and the actual playing, healing occurs. Often the spontaneous conversations contribute just as much value. It is a means for starting to accept DesJardins’ maxim, “Your life gets to get good, be good, and stay good.”
In wrapping up, I asked if DesJardins could condense her insights to the top three concepts she thought everyone should know which would make the world a better place. She paused, but only for a moment. “First, people need to Honor the Self. People have been taught to not trust their inner voice. What does your inside tell you to do or not do? Listen to your Self. Second, people need to know they are never alone. The Universe is always there and loves you. Third, be in nature every day.” She sat back in her chair.
So much more to hear, so much more available to learn at the Center. But for now, I sip my tea, thoughts simmering, and sit in gratitude for the visit.
To learn more about the center, or if you are interested in a position at the center, check out DesJardins’ website at Soulsatplayequinecenter.com or call 734-417-4112 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org .