What is Equine Assisted Psychotherapy or Equine Assisted Learning

 

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning. It is a collaborative effort between a mental health professional and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals.

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) incorporates horses experientially for growth and learning. It is a colloborative effort between a mental health professional, horse professional and other specialized professionals working with the clients and horses to address learning goals.

Why Horses? Horses are large and powerful, which creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creats confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.

Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined rols within herds. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse does not necessarily work with another.

Horses require work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the “easy way” are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable characteristic in all aspects of life.

Horses in EAP Horses are sensitive to no-verbal communication and respond to what messages the clients give them in the moment. As a result, their responses begin to feel very familiar to the clients , namely just like how their spouses, children and co-workers respond, or how their addictions, fears, dreams, etc. play out in their lives. The horses become very real symbols of these relationships and allow clients the opportunity to work through how to change these aspects of their lives in an experiential, in the moment and emotionally safe method.

A horses response gives the client and the treatment team information. This information then brings awareness of current patterns and motivates change to new ones. Many clients will complain, “the horse is stubborn or doesn’t like me”, but the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horses will respond differently.

How Does EAP Differ From Horsemanship? The focus is on human skills, not horse skills. EAP is about the clients being themselves. The focus is on the ground. We do not incorporate any horseback riding. No horse experience is required.

Horses have long been used to benefit people in a therapeutic way. Therapeutic riding, for example, has been successful in helping disabled individuals learn to ride horses to relax and to develop muscle tone, coordination and confidence. While EAP is designed to help individuals, couples, families and groups address specific mental, emotional, behavioural and relational issues.

A treatment team consists of a horse professional and a clinician. The team approach improves both the physical and emotional safety of sessions. Specific treatment goals, objectives and interventions are identified and documented. Sessions are structured and facilitated to deliberately address the reasons clients came to therapy.

EAP is designed to create metaphors for real life situations. This allows for metaphorical learning as everything done with horses is related to what is happening in an individual’s personal life.

Summary

EAP is an experiential modality of mental health treatment. EAL is an experiential modality broadly encompassing other learning and personal development goals. Both are incorporated in the EAGALA Model and involve activities with horses which provide opportunities for the client to gain insights and apply new learning and skills.

Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking, problem-solving, leaderships, work, taking responsibility, teamwork, relationships, confidence and attitude are the several examples of tools utilized and developed by the EAP and the EAL.