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Frequently Asked Questions
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What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

How does it work?

Why Horses?

Is it Different from Horsemanship?

Why a Team Approach? 

Is it a Stand Alone or Adjunct form of Treatment?

What are Personal Growth Workshops?

Why Corporate Training, Team Building, Group & Business Development?

Program Director of the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida Interviews Lisa Baugh


What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is an emerging field in which horses are used as co-facilitators and potential catalysts for emotional growth and learning in humans. It is experiential in nature. This means the participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with horses and then processing the feelings, behaviors, and response patterns that emerge. The approach has been compared to ropes and challenge courses however unlike other experiential techniques, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy has the added advantage of utilizing horses which are dynamic and powerful living beings.

Not all programs that use horses offer Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Some are geared towards horseback riding and focus on individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities. In order to be considered psychotherapy a qualified mental health professional must be present.

The focus of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is not riding or horsemanship. Almost all activities take place on the ground. Sessions involve setting up activities using horses that offer an opportunity for clients to learn about themselves or that may require they apply certain skills. Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking, problem solving, leadership, taking responsibility, teamwork, confidence, attitude, and building relationships are several examples of the skills that may be applied in sessions.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a powerful and effective approach that has an incredible impact on adults, youth, families, couples, and groups. It addresses a variety of psychological, mental and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention-deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and communication issues. It has a profound effect on people personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually.

NO HORSE EXPERIENCE IS NECESSARY. Horsemanship is not emphasized. All activities are un-mounted. Those unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply inspired by horses are encouraged to participate.

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How does it work?

The originator of Gestalt Therapy, Dr. Fritz Perls, is known to say that the mission of therapy is not to explain things to people but to provide them with the opportunity to understand and discover for themselves. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is based on many of the concepts of Gestalt Therapy including self-discovery and a non-directive approach.

One focus of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is on body language and non-verbal modes of communication. We observe both human and equine body language and the use of non-verbal messages. Often what a clients says verbally does not match what their body might be saying. With many clients, verbal exchanges alone are not always reliable. Activities designed with horses make this non-verbal, whole person approach more effective. 

Demonstrating concepts rather than teaching or lecturing is most effective in helping clients learn about themselves. Horses have a variety of characteristics that are similar to humans. One example is that horses are motivated by basic needs. Because of this they keep focused, healthy, and safe. Humans also have basic needs but can get into trouble because of pre-occupation with alternative desires and ulterior motives that even they may not fully comprehend.

Working in the present moment is an important characteristic of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Reality Therapist William Glassier believes it is imperative to help people help themselves to fulfill their needs in the here-and-now. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy focuses on activities in the present and how they relate to relationships and basic needs. The specifics of a session may be connected to the past and eventually clients discover the relationship between their past and their current behavior and thought patterns.

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Why Horses?

Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the ability horses have to influence people in powerful ways. The benefits of work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication, and healthy relationships have long been recognized in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy. Horses naturally provide these opportunities. The development of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy has paralleled the rise of new and alternative approaches in working with both horses and humans and has quickly grown in popularity. But why horses? Why not other animals?

The size and power of horses make them awesome, evocative, and inspiring. They may even be intimidating to some people. Completing a task involving a horse in spite of fears creates confidence and provides rich metaphors when dealing with other areas of life. Using the metaphors that arise is an effective technique when working with individuals or groups.

Horses may appear to be very much like humans. They are social animals and have defined roles in their herds. They want to be with their peers. Like humans, they have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse does not necessarily work with another. At times they may seem stubborn or defiant, at other times friendly and cooperative.

Horses require work and self-awareness, whether in caring for them or working with them. Horses require people to be engaged physically and mentally to be successful, a valuable characteristic in all aspects of life. Most importantly, horses read and respond to what human body language is telling them. Many people will complain, “the horse is stubborn, the horse doesn’t like me.” But the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horse may respond differently. In Equine Assisted Psychotherapy the horse becomes another live and dynamic object onto which the client may project. Acknowledging the assumptions or judgments the client makes about the horse and then exploring the basis of those conclusions provides rich material in the therapeutic process.

NO HORSE EXPERIENCE IS NECESSARY. Horsemanship is not emphasized. All activities are un-mounted. Those unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply inspired by horses are encouraged to participate.

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Is it Different from Horsemanship?

Yes. Horsemanship programs and riding lessons promote well being however Equine Assisted Psychotherapy provides therapeutic benefits that specifically address psychological, mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. All of the activities are conducted on the ground, not mounted. This allows for more attention to the human skills that need to be addressed rather than spending a lot of time on correct and safe riding procedures. Riding and horsemanship lessons are more directive, teaching the client how to do something while Equine Assisted Psychotherapy sessions are non-directive and allow the client to problem solve and be creative. The sessions focus on helping people understand themselves while horsemanship focuses on teaching people about horses. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy offers the following to individuals, families, and groups:

§   Specific treatment goals, objectives, and interventions that are identified and documented.

§   Focus on human skills and identifying patterns of behavior, thoughts, assumptions and beliefs, rather than focusing on horse skills.

§   Sessions that are designed to address mental health and human development issues quickly, directly, and effectively.

§   Implementation of metaphorical learning by relating to what is happening at home, in school, at work, and in relationships.

§   Encouragement of the true self that surfaces more quickly because it is hard to focus on a task and perform for others and put on an act at the same time.

§   An awareness of non-verbal communication with an emphasis on improving communication styles with people.

§   An opportunity to increase self-understanding and self-confidence by experiencing the reality of choices, attitudes, and natural consequences.

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Why a Team Approach?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is conducted by a professional treatment team. This includes an equine specialist, a qualified credentialed mental health professional, and one or more horses. The technique unites practitioners from both the mental health field and the equine arena to work together towards common goals. It is a collaborative effort that requires inter-disciplinary awareness by all.  

Each member of an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy treatment team brings a sense of knowledge, a motivated mindset, and a unique skill-set into the therapeutic session. The mental health professional does not necessarily need to know everything about horses but should be comfortable working around horses and should understand the ways that horses are used in sessions. The equine specialist should have the ability to communicate with humans. A horse professional who only appears comfortable around horses would not be a contributing part of the treatment team. Equine specialists who esteem themselves as horse trainers or riding instructors tend to get diverted from the emotional growth and learning of the client and focus more on training horses or giving riding lessons. 

The unique skill-sets that each team member brings to the session are essential to the success of the treatment. A deep understanding of the nature and behavior of horses allows the equine professional to set up and oversee activities that are both safe and evocative. The ability of the mental health professional to identify and process emotional content affords the client an opportunity to assimilate the experience and make it significant to their overall personal growth and development.

Though the magic of horses plays a part, it is the skills, education, character, and experience of the facilitators that determine the impact the session will have on a person’s life. Treatment team members able to “wear both hats” and comfortably navigate both disciplines will be the most effective.

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Is it a Stand Alone or Adjunct form of Treatment?

Horses have proven to be versatile and dynamic assistants in therapy. Specific needs and issues of clients can elicit a range of behaviors from a horse. Many believe that Equine Assisted Psychotherapy effectively minimizes a client’s time in treatment due to its ability to bring issues to the surface in a timely fashion and relatively non-threatening environment.

Because of its intensity and effectiveness Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is sometimes considered a short term or brief approach. As an adjunct component or part of an integrated approach it can be a powerful boost to traditional forms of treatment. Just one session can be processed for several months and can be a very useful supplement to skilled conventional therapy. For the oppositional client it can break open the barriers to treatment. For the overly compliant client stuck in the traditional office setting, it can trigger the discovery of new issues for further exploration.

Though single sessions are powerful, a series brings even more depth to the work. Recent research on an equine program for youth found that 82% of those who participated in the series demonstrated clinically significant improvement after an average of five sessions. Each of the clients had failed to make progress using conventional methods of therapy. Though more research is needed, clinical experiences reported from the field indicate that Equine Assisted Psychotherapy may be appropriate as both an adjunct and stand alone form of treatment.

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What are Personal Growth Workshops?

Personal Growth and Self-Development workshops that incorporate Equine Assisted Activities promote self-empowerment and encourage personal insight, consciousness, and self-awareness to anyone interested in personal growth. These workshops are designed for everyday people on the path of self-actualization. Because Equine Assisted Personal Growth Workshops address a variety of human interactional and developmental issues, they have an enormous impact on adults, youth, families, couples, and groups by profoundly influencing people personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually.

Personal Growth Workshops focus on the potential of the horse-human relationship to help people connect to the unknown, misunderstood, or untapped parts of themselves. Participants engage in imaginal and experiential activities and are encouraged to explore and share their experiences. Group process, metaphor and self-exploration techniques are used to access emotional, spiritual, and archetypal levels. Activities foster self-reflection, problem solving, boundary setting, communication, leadership, and assertiveness and maximize participant’s potential for empowerment, personal growth, and a deeper understanding of self.

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Why Corporate Training, Team Building, Group & Business Development?

Equine Assisted Activities foster insight and awareness for corporate restructuring, business development, and adult or youth groups. Activities help organizations identify unknown behavior patterns and overall group dynamics. Working with horses is similar to managing people. Equine Assisted Personal Growth and Team Building sessions are empowering for people and highly applicable to the corporate or business environment. They demonstrate how relationships based on mutual respect, trust, and the use of a gentle but firm approach, can teach executives and their employees how to better connect with one another.

Participants learn not only about themselves but how they interact with others as well. Groups, corporations, and businesses become more productive when employees:

§   Gain insight and understanding of their personal and professional relationships

§   Become aware of behavioral and response patterns and how these contribute to productivity and their overall work environment

§   Study the dynamics of how their group works as a team

§   Improve communication, problem solving skills, choice-making, and goal setting

§   Gain confidence and improve awareness of self and others

§   Assess personality and interpersonal styles

§   Identify leadership do’s and don’ts

§   Connect with each other on an emotional and personal level

§   Grow and learn by participating in challenging activities that are also fun!

Program Director of the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida Interviews Lisa Baugh - Click Here
 

Adapted from material Copyrighted 2003 by EAGALA, Inc., the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
For more information, go to www.eagala.org.

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