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Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is an effective therapeutic approach that has been shown to have a positive impact on individuals, families and groups. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, abuse issues, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and communication needs.
EAP is a program designed to experientially incorporate horses into activities designed to promote emotional growth and learning. Simply stated, participants learn about themselves and their relationships with others by participating in activities with the horses, and then discussing their thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and patterns.
Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by application and reflection. Participants are engaged intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically, holistically touching all aspects of the addiction model. Throughout this process, the participant is actively engaged in posing and investigating questions, experimenting, problem solving, taking responsibility, being creative, and discovering meaning in their life situations.
Experiences are structured to require participants to take initiative, make decisions and become accountable for results. The results of each session are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning. Relationships and accountability are developed and nurtured – self to self, self to others and self to the world at large.
Because the outcome cannot totally be predicted, the participant may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking, and uncertainty. These opportunities are then nurtured to explore and examine their personal values and beliefs.
Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles in their herds and would rather be with their peers. Like humans, they have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. An approach that works with one, may not work with another. At times, they are stubborn and defiant. They love to play, have fun and are curious by nature.
Most importantly, due to their highly evolved survival senses, they have the ability to read and mirror human body language and emotions. They are honest, making them powerful messengers.
All this creates vast opportunities for metaphorical learning. The use of metaphors, in discussion or activity, is an effective method when working with individuals. For example, the size and power of a horse can be intimidating to many people. By accomplishing a task involving the horse and overcoming fear, confidence is created, which can carry over into other challenges in life.
Finally, the use of horses in therapy is growing and gaining in popularity. Professional organizations such as the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) bring credibility to the field of Equine Assisted Therapy and ensure their members maintain professional and ethical practice.
April Lain, M.Ed., LISAC