Most of us are aware of the benefit therapeutic horsemanship provides to people with physical and developmental disabilities. But did you know that horses are also a wonderful resource to use in the identification and treatment of mental health issues? In this new blog, we will explore the ways horses and other animals may be able to enhance the therapeutic experience for our clients.
Horses are intuitive creatures with a keen sense of awareness to what is happening in their environment. After all, they are prey animals living in a predator dominated world – yes, we humans are considered predators! Therefore, horses constantly monitor the actions of the animals and humans that surround them and react accordingly. In fact, they notice subtle, non-verbal body language that we may not even know we are exhibiting.
So, how does this help me, as a counselor, relate to my clients? Think of the horse as a mirror, reflecting what clients are thinking and feeling, even if they aren’t saying a word. Horses are completely honest in their reactions to people and may provide significant clues into what is going on with clients behind the scenes, so to speak. In addition, horses are social creatures, just like us. They have unique personalities, likes and dislikes. They prefer to be around other horses and live in the hierarchical structure of a herd (similar to a family). Some horses are leaders, others follow. Some are serious and all business, others are clowns and like to play. Sound like some people you know? These traits in horses may actually help people learn and grow as individuals and within relationships. Interacting with different types of horses may also provide the opportunity for reflection that some clients have defined as a deeply profound experience.
Take the example of Bob (named changed for confidentiality purposes), a client who sought Equine-Facilitated Counseling to cope with anger management issues. Bob initially found the horses to be “stubborn,” “mad,” and “difficult to work with.” When questioned about his own thoughts and feelings as he tried to get the horses to do what he wanted, however, Bob realized that he was the one experiencing frustration and prompted the same response in the horse. Bob also realized that the horses were a good representation of his co-workers and how they react to him on the job. Through his work with horses, Bob is now able to recognize when his temper is starting to flare and is working to implement strategies to control his anger and replace the frustration with more positive and productive thoughts and feelings.
The utilization of animals in the therapeutic process has increased in recent years and the area of Equine-Facilitated Counseling is growing in popularity. If this is a topic that interests you, join me each week to explore new and innovative animal-assisted counseling methods from around the world and to share success stories and tips – straight from the horse’s mouth!
Lisa Krystosek is a counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in Equine-Facilitated Counseling to help adults, adolescents and children improve their lives. To contact Lisa, please visit www.lisakrystosek.com.