Horses facilitate 'engagement' in children and adolescents. Horses evoke feelings! Non-verbal feedback from horses can be powerful and can effect change, particularly in clients who are not able to verbalise (or reflect upon) their feelings. Due to horses heightened sensitivity and natural instincts they respond to a person's mood and behaviour. Horse feedback can encourage self-awareness and congruency of body, feelings, thoughts and beliefs.
Horses live in the ʻhere and nowʼ and offer authentic and honest contact, free of judgement and interpretation.
More about EAP
Perth Equine & Art Therapy has summarized a number of current research studies undertaken in Australia and internationally that have demonstrated the efficacy of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) programmes. Following is a summary of some of the key findings.
EAP sessions usually last between 60 to 90 minutes and are facilitated by an accredited mental health professional with equine skills (or an accredited mental health professional working in tandem with an equine professional). Given a horse’s unique characteristics and uncanny ability to reflect human emotion, the use of horses in the treatment of emotional issues, behavioural problems and mental illness has grown rapidly in the United States and Europe over the past decade.
Horses are prey animals and, therefore, to ensure their survival they need to be attuned to their environment at all times. For this reason horses are excellent at remaining present in the moment and accurately interpreting environmental cues. Further, because horses are highly social animals and depend on continuous communication for safety, the process of observing and interacting with horses can provide ample opportunity to foster the development of social and relational skills in people. It seems that a horse can become confused and agitated when there is incongruence between the verbal and non-verbal cues it receives from a person and, in this situation, a horse will instinctively react to the person’s internal emotional state regardless of their outward expression. Humans, on the other hand, tend to control their emotional expressions and will often exhibit incongruence between their verbal and non-verbal communication. This can result in an individual becoming ‘disconnected’ from her/his authentic self, which in turn can lead to mental health issues. A client’s interactions with a horse can also be very informative for the clinician with regards to how the client might behave in other situations.
Given that many ‘at-risk’ individuals will have been exposed to emotional experiences that impact their ability to accept touch, exposure to touch through developing a connection with a horse (through grooming the horse, for example) can also help to heal an individual’s damaged emotional and sensory motor elements. Grooming a horse (as well as being in a relaxing rural environment) appears to help promote a willingness on the part of the client to engage in meaningful dialogue with the therapist; something that can be difficult to achieve in an office based setting, particularly with young children.
Children who experience conduct, developmental or learning difficulties are ‘at risk’ of developing serious emotional disorders during adolescence, which if not treated can result in serious mental health issues during adulthood. Based on the evidence provided in a variety of studies it seems reasonable to conclude that combining the natural affinity that exists between humans and horses with traditional psychotherapy techniques can help to enhance the healing process in individuals challenged by emotional and mental health conditions in a way that is truly unique to EAP. Children and adolescents can find traditional ‘talk-based’ therapies difficult. In contrast, EAP is not predominantly ‘talk-based’ and integrates horses into the therapeutic process to help enhance a client’s ‘sense of self’; acting as a catalyst for the development of trust between client and therapist which helps to break down the barriers to the communication process.
It has also been suggested that developing an ability to control a large and powerful animal can help to provide clients with a sense of mastery, validation and accomplishment. It also provides clients (and counsellors) with the opportunity to explore issues related to vulnerability, power and control. Another advantage of EAP is that when clients travel to a rural setting they can hide the fact that they are attending therapy and this is particularly important when dealing with adolescents who are facing identity formation issues and object to being labelled as ‘patients’.
EAP sessions can provide a range of enjoyable activities that allow clients to develop social skills, coping resources and distress tolerance, which can help to foster long-term change and relapse prevention. Due to their willingness to express emotion, incorporating horses into a therapeutic setting creates an effective medium through which clients are able to reconnect with their authentic selves. This can be seen from the moment an individual comes into contact with a horse! Read more
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Is a unique approach to psychotherapy where clients are offered safe experiences with horses for the purpose of exploring new ways of connecting in relationships and building self-awareness and trust.
Horse riding skills are not required, as interaction with the horse is conducted on the ground.