Psychotherapy is therapy for emotional wellbeing. It’s a therapy that focuses on thoughts that influence patterns of behaviour. In a professional capacity, psychotherapists use techniques that facilitate the resolution of emotional problems and help to bring about positive change to a person’s mental health and experience of life.
Although psychotherapy is often known as the ‘talking’ therapy, it can take many forms, as it is experiential – based on experience and observation. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a specialised form of therapy following the same experiential principles, but works within the dynamics of a therapist, a person or persons and a horse or team of horses.
EAP is a relatively recent development in the field of psychotherapy, which Camino Recovery’s Don Lavender, as part of a clinical team at the Sierra Tucson Treatment Centre, pioneered in the late 1980s. Following success in the US, Don brought EAP to Europe and at one stage was the only therapist in the UK practicing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
Don has now been successfully working with this highly specialised therapy for over 25 years. EAP is used within some of the programmes at Camino Recovery for those suffering from addiction, depression, anxiety, and mental and nervous disorders. It’s been understood that interaction with horses breaks down barriers more quickly than is the case in conventional process exercises.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a unique way of gaining personal insight in to boundaries and relationships. It can help build bonds of trust and support for individuals and develop better verbal and nonverbal communication within relationships. It’s also proven to increase attentiveness and readiness to learn about oneself and others, and it builds confidence and esteem within individuals and groups.
As horses are prey animals (not predators), they are uniquely designed to fit into a herd for survival. Horses have learned to engage closely with those around them, as ‘safety in numbers’ depends upon it.
An example; horses know when you’re afraid, but they have no idea what you fear. If you’re with horses, for all practical purposes you are part of the herd. One practical purpose is survival. If one member of the herd is fearful of something, then the entire herd should be fearful. That’s how the herd survives. The client may therefore not admit that they are afraid but the horse will know.
EAP uses a highly structured activity-based approach to promote personal growth, responsibility and at times provide some resolution from trauma. Focused EAP is designed to enhance healthy interaction, empower people positively and break down the barriers that prevent effective communication. In order to accomplish simple tasks one is taught how to speak the ‘language-of-horse’ through congruent message sending exercises. This language is devoid of lying simply because deception and manipulation do not work well with horses. The sense of accomplishment is not only tied to a connection and understanding of the horse, but to connection and understanding of self. Understanding oneself is ultimately the most fertile ground for recovery.
Don’s book, Equine Utilised Psychotherapy, (ISBN 0-9553861-0-1) is available through Camino Recovery’s office. For further information on EAP treatments for recovery, contact Meena on (+34) 952 784 228 or email [email protected]