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The Gate: Rhythm and Connection in a TF-EAP Session

This story is about how rhythm affects us and how it can be used to help clients become unstuck. Reccia Jobe, the equine professional, and I watch the *17-year-old boy with liquid-blue eyes move around the round pen with his horse. We observe how the boy and his horse stop, each time, just short of the gate. Instead of passing the gate and continuing the boy and his horse turn around and go in the opposite direction. When they arrive at the gate again, they do not pass the gate; instead, they turn around and go in the other direction. I am intrigued by this behavior. What is happening? I wonder.

Again we watch him ask for attachment from his horse, and they start walking around the pen, and as they approach the gate, I notice that the boy begins to slow down. I ask the boy, “Tell me what’s happening.” He says in a voice that is barely audible, “My horse won’t pass the gate.” The boy stops short of the gate and turns around. Again, we watch them attach and go around the pen. This time I notice not only does he slow down, but all the energy appears to drain from his body as he approaches the gate and when the energy in his body decreases his horse stops. I confer with Reccia and ask about her observations. She agrees that energy is leaving the boy’s body. Again I ask the boy, “What happened?” He gives the same answer, “My horse won’t pass the gate.”

Reccia and I know it isn’t the horse, but saying that isn’t going to help the boy. We decide to do some experimentation to help him figure out this problem. I ask him to walk around the round pen by himself. He saunters around the pen, and as he approaches the gate, he begins to walk slower and slower then all the energy drains from him and he stops. I ask again, “What happened?” This time he looks at me with his watery eyes and whispers, “I don’t know if I can pass the gate. I just don’t know if I can.” “What’s stopping you?” I ask. “I just can’t,” he explains. He looks so defeated and hopeless.

Logically it is not possible that he can’t pass the gate. Physically he can pass the gate, but emotionally he can’t. Reccia and I confer, then she asks him to try something new that he wants to try. He tries something new, but he has the same results. She asks him again to try something new, and this time we watch him slowly pass the gate. We wait for a reaction from him about passing the gate, but there is none. He continues to walk his head down, moving slowly, methodically. We watch as he makes one lap, then two laps. His horse watches him go around the pen and steps in beside him. Around the pen, they walk together. They past the gate, and do another two laps. Finally, I ask him, “How did you do that?” He looks up. “Do what?” he says. “Pass the gate,” I reply. He looks and finds his horse standing at his shoulder, their feet just on the other side of the gate. He appears very confused. I reflect, “You did not know you passed the gate.” “I was thinking of my safe place,” he explains. “Okay. So you had to think of your safe place to help you feel safe so your body could pass the gate?” “Yes,” he whispers.

We want him to pass the gate and know he has done it. We continue experimenting. Reccia asks him to hold on to that safe feeling he has in his body now and to increase the energy in his body. He responds that he does not know how to increase the energy in his body, so we direct him to march. Marching will increase his body energy and it is rhythmic, patterned and repetitive. We know that a rhythmic, patterned and repetitive activity will help him regulate.

He marches with this funny gait that breaks out into something like a skip. He begins to moves faster, and his movement becomes more fluid, and rhythmic. The change in him is striking. His face looks so alive. His eyes are dancing. Then he skips right past the gate. The moment his body passes the gate his face breaks out into a huge grin, “I did it!” he exclaims.

I am struck by how different he looks. His skin is pink and glowing. His eyes are dancing. He is walking with confidence. His voice is strong. The pale, quiet, slow-moving, awkward, watery-eyed boy is gone.

Rhythm is a beautiful intervention because it impacts our perception of ourselves, our perception of others and our perception of our abilities. It opens up our thinking, changes how we move in the world, and how we relate to one another.

*client composite, not an actual client

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