What is Equine Assisted Therapy ?
What is it?
Equine Assisted Therapy is a new approach to helping clients with depression, anxiety, trauma, self-esteem, attention problems and relationship difficulties but can be used to help most other mental health issues. Therapy with horses is an effective form of treatment and is being used by the military to treat trauma and anxiety issues for veterans. It is also used by agencies and treatment centers across the country to treat other issues like substance abuse and children with behaviorial problems.
How does it work?
Horses, whether they are domesticated or live in the wild, are always part of a herd.They've learned over the thousands of years that it is their best hope for survival. Even today, when horses don't have to fend for themselves anymore, they rely heavily on their fight-or-flight instinct to remain safe. Humans have this same mechanism. The difference between horses and humans is that horses can let their anxiety go minutes after the threat has passed. Because our brains think about a perceived threat long after it is gone, or anticipate a threat long before it happens, we get stressed and anxious. If we do this enough, we develop anxiety disorders and physical problems.
Because horses have a herd mentality, they will become upset, calm, anxious if someone in their herd is feeling that way. They also pick up on emotions of humans around them and react accordingly. As a result, they are accurate mirrors of how we are feeling. This makes it easier to detect and respond to emotions we might not be aware we are feeling.
Horses don't accept poor behavior from humans or within their herd. There is always an established 'pecking order' based on the lead horse establishing the respect of other herd members. Likewise, their relationships with humans are also based on respect and boundaries and this is why they are such great teachers of these principles.
How is it different than traditional 'in-office' therapy?
First, this type of therapy is conducted outside with the horses and for a lot of people this changes things right away. It feels less intimidating and for most people, the sheer interaction with the animals and freedom to move around encourages people to talk more openly as opposed to sitting in a chair for an hour. Second, by observation of the interaction of horse and client, I can see how a client interacts in their world in a very concrete way. This allows me to bring up and talk about issues as they occur. All of the work with the horse is done on the ground so there is no riding experience needed. This program is conducted by Elizabeth Mitchell, LCSW with her program Changing Gaits, LLC. For more information, visit: www.changinggaitsllc.com.