What is EAP?
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. Incorporating horses for growth and learning is experiential. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, and patterns.
Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Horses are large and powerful which creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They would rather be with their peers. They have defined roles within their herds; they have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. At times they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning.
What is the role of the horse in an EAP session?
Horses are sensitive to non-verbal communication and respond to the messages the clients give them in the moment. As a result, their responses feel familiar to the clients, namely just as their spouses, children or co-workers respond, or how their addictions, fears, and dreams play out in their lives. The horses’ responses give the client and the treatment team information that builds awareness of current patterns and motivates change to new ones. Many clients will complain: “The horse is stubborn. The horse doesn’t like me” etc. But the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently.
EAP is about the horses doing the work of effecting change in people’s lives – it is about the relationship between the horses and clients, not the relationship between the facilitators and clients. The facilitators are there to provide opportunities and bring consciousness to the lessons being learned.
How does EAP differ from horsemanship?
Although spending any time with horses, whether it be riding, leisure or sport, is beneficial mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, EAP offers the following benefits to individuals, groups and families that specifically address mental, emotional and behavioural issues:
- The focus is on human skills, not horse skills. Horsemanship is about the instructor directing specific skills with horses. EAO is about the clients being themselves.
- A treatment team consists of a horse professional and a clinician. This 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 come to therapy.
- EAP sessions are designed to best create metaphors to ‘real life’. This allows for metaphorical learning as everything done with horses is related to what is happening at home, school, work, in relationships etc.
What is the EAGALA model?
The EAGALA model is a structure and standard for conducting Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. To summarize this standard:
1. The Team approach
EAGALA’s standard is that this work is done with a qualified, professional team of mental health professional (MH) and equine specialist professional (ES).
2. Focus on the ground
EAGALA’s standard is that this work is done on the ground with horses. We do not incorporate any mounted work. This allows us a safer environment for our clients with a wider range of potential activities. In addition, there is less instruction from facilitators with ground work which maximizes the solution-oriented approach of the model. Being on the ground allows the horses to act more naturally and be themselves. They are in a better position to confront and engage with clients. They can run, move away, ignore, kick, eat, or get distracted with their peers. It is the opportunity they have to act like horses that brings the true power to EAGALA sessions.
In EAGALA, we believe that, whether it be their relationship with the horses or their relationship to people, places, things, or concepts in their lives, clients have their own best solutions if just given the opportunity to discover them. Discomfort and challenge occur naturally in life. For many people, it is through these difficulties in their lives that struggles become more apparent. EAGALA model work re-creates these life situations through the work with the horses. In this therapeutic environment, clients have the opportunity to work through these struggles, problem-solve, and practice experientially new ways of living.
4. Code of Ethics
Each member of the EAGALA team (mental health professional, equine specialist, and horse) is expected to maintain professionalism and work toward the overall health and wellness of the clients. The complete code of ethics can be found at http://www.eagala.org