Equine Assisted PsychotherapyPublished October 6, 2008
One of the 1995 best selling books, "The Horse Whisperer" by Nicholas Evans, tells the story of a horse so severely traumatized after a horrifying accident with his rider aboard, that he lost all trust of humans. As a parallel to his devastating experience, his rider, a young girl who lost a leg from her own injuries, was frightened so badly that her fear of horses overrode her great love for them.
Both the girl and the horse were locked into their individual nightmares, haunted by their unconscious demons. The girl's mother, determined to restore her daughter's physical and emotional balance, and the almost identical issues for her daughter’s horse, found a "horse whisperer" who brought both of them back to physical and emotional health by patient, firm and compassionate direction.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, (EAP), reminiscent of the "Horse Whisperer", utilizes the relationship between horse and client as the springboard from which healing can occur.
While Therapeutic Horseback Riding has gained major popularity as a treatment modality for people, who may be physically or developmentally disabled, equine assisted psychotherapy is somewhat different from the more traditional therapeutic horseback riding protocol. Although there are significant psychological benefits from therapeutic horseback riding, it was basically designed as a form of physical therapy. EAP, on the other hand is designed to treat psychological and emotional conditions such as eating disorders, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, depression, anger management and anxiety.
Most animals accept us unconditionally. A client, fearful of rejection or lacking trust in more traditional psychotherapists is able to form a meaningful and "safer" relationship with a non-threatening animal, like a horse. Since we are often prone to projecting our own feelings and emotions onto animals, observing the interaction between client and the horse, and the client's interpretation of the interaction, gives the EAP-trained psychotherapist insight into their client's feelings and behavior patterns that may be standing in the way of the client's recovery.
Just touching a gentle horse and being safely in its presence can be a powerful experience for many people. Being able to interact with a horse under the guidance of a skilled and trusted professional psychotherapist can develop into deep self-awareness, which is the cornerstone for recovery.
Watch this excellent video uploaded to YouTube by TheBennyZone, which demonstrates how these programs work.
Winston Churchill once said, "There's something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." I am sure that if he made that statement today, Winston Churchill would have ended it with the word, "person".
Leave a comment and let us know the psychological or emotional benefits you feel you have received from being around horses, or if you have had any involvement with equine assisted psychotherapy.
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