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Equine Assisted Psychotherapy as a Last Resort Treatment

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I have practiced equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) for over 10 years now. Since it is still a relatively new treatment modality in the counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy world, it is often only considered after every other kind of treatment has been tried. Because of this, I have had the benefit of gaining a tremendous amount of experience working with some of the most difficult cases- people on the verge of finally making a successful suicide attempt, kids who have gotten kicked out of school after school, divorced families who have spent years fighting in court, children who are so shut down they don’t talk and barely eat, women who have narrowly escaped death in an abusive relationship, adults who have so much anxiety, they can no longer get up the courage to leave the house except to come to therapy, and so much more. One thing most of these cases have in common is that they could have gotten the help they needed so much sooner, but they didn’t know it was available or didn’t understand how incredibly helpful it could be. Without doing a long-term longitudinal study, I can’t know for sure why our equine therapy sessions have been helpful for so many clients when other types of treatment have not. Maybe they’ve hit the bottom when they get to us and there is nowhere to go but up. Maybe they’ve reached a time in their lives where they are finally ready to do what it takes to make a real change for themselves. Or maybe there is something about the specific type of work we do with Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP) that opens up new pathways in their brains for healing and growth. In fact, TF-EAP is designed to do just that- create new pathways in the brain for healthy relationships. One thing we do know from many different studies is that healthy relationships are critical to creating resilience in the face of life’s struggles and adversity. When relationships with humans have proven to be unsafe or scary, building a healthy human relationship can feel impossible and unwanted. However, building a healthy relationship with a horse can seem much less emotionally threatening, allowing the brain to explore and create new pathways for relating with self, others, and the world around you in a healthier way. Because the work is done in the context of a relationship, it requires you to be present and participate with all of your senses in the relationship with the horse to develop the kind of connection and partnership you wish to have with yourself and others. Plus, it allows your therapy team to experience what is really happening for you in your life as they see it played out in your interactions with the horse. This gives them greater insight into you and your experience and helps them create a treatment plan that is more likely to effectively address your specific needs.

Discovering how to build a healthy relationship for yourself transfers to all relationships because you are the one doing the work and creating new experiences to build new brain pathways upon. This can often be difficult to do in an office setting or with humans because humans don’t always respond to you honestly. Most therapists are trained not to respond to you and what you say with their honest feelings and reactions, so it can be difficult to figure out what is actually working for you and what is not. Horses, or rather the ones trained with TF-EAP principles, have no such limitation. They engage and respond to you in the moment with honesty and clarity. When you make a change, your emotions shift, your beliefs shift, or something changes in your body, the horses respond honestly through their actions. Words don’t get in the way. In fact, the words are meaningless to the horse, so faking it or just saying what you are “supposed to” doesn’t work. You have to make a real, internal change in order to get a different response from your horse. I could go on and on about why I believe TF-EAP helps when other types of therapy haven’t, but a better way to understand more would be to try it out for yourself. Contact us to learn more about TF-EAP or book your first session now. Don’t wait until it is a last resort. Get the help you need now!

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