04/18/2016 03:52 EDT | Updated 04/20/2016 11:42 EDT

The Be Brave Ranch Helps Survivors Of Child Sexual Abuse

"They can start trusting people again."

CP/Little Warriors HO

EDMONTON — A new report says a therapy program at an Alberta ranch has helped child sex-abuse survivors suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma symptoms.

Therapy sessions delivered in a friendly camp-like atmosphere were designed to treat kids between 8 and 12 before they develop self-destructive behaviours such as seriously harming themselves or becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs later in life.

"The present results are very supportive that the clinical intervention program leads to a clinically meaningful improvement in symptoms of PTSD, as well as improvements in anxiety and mood symptoms,'' reads the University of Alberta study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Behaviour.

"This would support suggestions that such an intensive approach could be more widely utilized.''

""It is very hard to put in a scientific document the very real and meaningful changes that you see in these kids."

The program was designed by a research team led by Prof. Peter Silverstone, a psychiatrist. Little Warriors, a charity that works to prevent and treat child sexual abuse, designed The Be Brave Ranch where the program is delivered.

The clinical trials last year involved small groups of girls and boys who lived at the ranch outside of Edmonton and underwent hours of therapy with psychologists each day. Parents stayed at other lodges at the ranch.

The kids were taught everyday life skills and then gradually were encouraged to speak about the abuse with therapists.

'Fun' therapy

After formal sessions, the children took part in hours of "fun'' therapy that included structured play, physical exercise, arts and crafts, music, role playing and interacting with horses and dogs.

Silverstone said the therapy, the ranch and the children making friends with each other were all factors in the positive results.

"It is very hard to put in a scientific document the very real and meaningful changes that you see in these kids,'' he said in an interview.

"They are able to make proper emotional attachments. They can start trusting people again. They can be happier, less depressed, less anxious, and they can start enjoying life in a way that they were just not capable of doing before.''

Take a virtual tour of The Be Brave Ranch. Story continues below.

Glori Meldrum, the driving force behind Little Warriors, is heartened by the study's findings.

Meldrum, who was sexually abused when she was a child, hopes the study will persuade the Alberta government to help fund the program, which relies on donations.

Little Warriors has felt the same financial squeeze as other charities in Alberta due to a slumping provincial economy.

"We survive on the generosity of others,'' she said. "Some government contracts would give us some more stability and allow us to treat these kids that are in care of the government, who often need lots of help.''

"They can be happier, less depressed, less anxious."

Meldrum said she is to meet with Alberta Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir in June. She also plans to pitch the Northwest Territories and other governments on The Be Brave Ranch.

The scientific results give the program credibility, she said, but a person need only speak with children who have spent time at the ranch to appreciate how the experience has improved their lives.

"The kids love it. It is a really warm, loving environment. They feel really safe there.''

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