If you’ve experienced a traumatic incident or require a psychologist for another reason, Equine Assisted Therapy might be a suitable option for you.
What is Equine Assisted Therapy?
Equine assisted therapy(or Equine Assisted Psychology) encompasses all activities that involve horses and other equines to assist in the therapy of patients with trauma or mental health issues. It has been around since the 1960s.
Why we use Horses in Animal Assisted Therapy?
Horses are just one of the animals used in animal assisted therapy.
They are large powerful animals, and in the wild they live in herds with defined roles. They function together because cooperating means their survival. Herd leaders create this cooperation and harmony by establishing boundaries based on respect, trust and discipline.
Horses are social animals and primarily use non-verbal communication to interact. In therapy, as each horse has its own personality, an approach that may work with one horse may not work with another and this creates an opportunity for clients to modify their behaviour.
How does equine assisted therapy work?
Observation and activities with horses
In equine assisted therapy, the focus is on the process that unfolds through the activity and interaction with the horses. This provides opportunities for “real life” or metaphorical learning.
The response of the client is the fundamental part of equine assisted psychology. Through carefully planned activities, clients tend to project their thoughts, beliefs and feelings onto horses.
For example, a horse may turn and walk away from a client. This action can be interpreted any number of ways by the client and it is through this interpretation that the clinical team understand how the client perceives their world.
Being actively involved with the therapy
Equine assisted therapy is experiential therapy and the process of learning occurs through engaging in activities with horses and making meaning from the experience.
The activities promote reflection, analysis and therefore, a client is engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically.
Through the process, the client derives their own meanings to explore and examine their values. The result of the learning is personal. It forms awareness from which future learning can lead to changing attitudes and perceptions that improve well-being.
Equine assisted therapy is a form of solution-focused brief therapy. Solution-focused brief therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on current problems and solutions.
The goal of equine assisted therapy is to not to pathologise (regard or treat as psychologically abnormal), but build on client strengths and beliefs. Using horses creates a context in which this can occur.
Equine assisted therapy is primarily groundwork, therefore clients do not ride horses in activities as therapeutically, it is not important to master the horse because the horse is a part of the therapeutic process, not the focus. The ground-based activities and subsequent reflection enable the formulation of client solutions.
Is equine assisted therapy safe?
In an equine assisted therapy session, the horses are trained and known to the psychologist. There is a relationship between them and the psychologist is well trained in equine behaviour and psychology.
Talk therapy has its place and so does equine assisted therapy!
Equine assisted therapy sessions do not require the client to be verbal about their thoughts and feelings. It gives the client an opportunity to try out new behaviors and get feedback from an unbiased source – the horse.
The experiential aspect of equine assisted therapy allows the client to address verbal and non-verbal communication as behaviours and emotions surface during the work with horses.
If the client’s behaviour is not working in the relationship with the horse, it is probably not working in their other relationships.
The outcomes of equine assisted therapy are measured by the insights developed.
Do you think you could benefit from equine assisted therapy? Harnessing Wellness is an equine assisted therapy clinic in Melbourne that specialises in counselling and therapeutic group programs with horses. Get in touch to learn more about our equine assisted psychology sessions.