Sunday, October 16, 2011

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Last weekend I was down in Portland, Oregon area for a training in EAP for work. It's a really interesting model and if you're in the health care field I recommend you take a look at it. EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Assoc.) puts on trainings throughout the US and abroad (for some reason my boss didn't think it was necessary for me to go to Europe or South America to get certified...???) and offer them pretty much year round.

It's a team approach, so there's a licensed Mental Health person, an Equine Specialist, and a horse or horses. The client (or clients) come in, are given a task (for instance, go get a horse and bring it over here), and the MH and ES step back and watch what happens. The MH person is watching the people, while the ES person watches the horses and looks for Shifts, Patterns, Uniqueness, Discrepancies, and/or Self-awareness.

When the client feels they are done, you process what happened. It doesn't matter if they complete the task or not. Questions are asked in the here and now, and always relate back to the horses. (In other words, it is not talk therapy). For instance, if the task is to bring a horse back to a certain area (probably without ropes, etc.) the ES might ask, "I noticed when you walked towards the horses, the one you were closest to ran very quickly down the side of the arena. What was that about?" I would ask this question because I'm interested to know if the client saw the horse running away as a success or a failure, and if it brought up issues for them.

-I thought it was good, the horse got to have some freedom and do what it wanted.
-It ran away from me like everyone else does.
-I didn't really notice when that happened.
-I just went on to a different horse.
-I felt like I failed, because I was going after that horse.
-etc. etc. etc. etc.

You can see that all of these answers would tell something about the client. Then the MH person comes in and either asks another question or relates the answer back to the client's life.

It's a great way for kids, especially angry and somewhat reluctant kids to start opening up. You're lucky to get some kids to sit across from you and talk for 10 minutes, while they can be doing EAP and processing for an hour.

Oh, and the horses are AMAZING. You would not believe some of the things they do in these sessions. It's like they know exactly what the client needs and take care of business. Pretty cool. I'm looking forward to getting this started at the Ranch.


Dom said...

We did a similar program last year with our horses. It was for abused kids and taught them things like 'sometimes you just have to let go' or 'walking away from an aggressor doesn't make you weak', etc. Very fascinating stuff.

EvenSong said...

I've always thought this looked interesting, but never had the occasion to find out more. Does the Ranch need a MH person, or do you get to do both roles?

Albigears said...

Dom, cool! It's always amazing to watch sessions, because they NEVER seem go in the direction I think they will. People can be surprising.

No, I am not a Mental Health person so I can't fill that role. Even if I was, there would still have to be a team of a MH person and an Equine Specialist. They play two very different and distinct roles, you can't do both at the same time. Our social workers will be playing the roles of MH people.

SprinklerBandit said...

That is really cool. Thanks for writing.

I'm intrigued but MH issues and treatment to begin with and horses are certainly an interesting tool to learn with.