“I’m tired of talking about it.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard clients utter these words with a sense of frustration, defeat, and exhaustion.
While there can be benefits to reprocessing our feelings as we retell our stories in therapy, for some it just doesn’t work.
Some are too guarded to trust opening up to anyone. Some feel overwhelmed sharing the details of their experiences. Others simply cannot even put their trauma into words.
In the case of complex trauma, and particularly for youth involved in the child welfare system, they have often told their story countless times. To their therapist, their social workers, their foster family agency, their foster parents, their attorney, the judge– you get the picture.
But what happens when they are done talking?
For many of the youth I worked with when I provided community-mental health services, when they were “done talking” it usually meant traditional therapy methods weren’t going to work any longer. They’d close up, become resistant to attend sessions, and progress would come to a stand still. With some creativity and luck, sometimes taking the pressure off to engage in more art or play therapy would ignite their interest again, but not always.
Sadly, many cases like this end up discharged for “meeting maximum benefit.” This didn’t mean they met treatment goals. It meant treatment hit a plateau and no further progress was possible at this point in time.
For some, that meant they were functioning well enough, but for others they just were not getting better and traditional methods weren’t working. It is clients like this that need an alternative way to process their feelings and find healing.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is an experiential therapy model that is provided by a treatment team consisting of a licensed mental health professional, equine specialist, and horses. EAP is a useful form of therapy for the treatment of a variety of mental health concerns including: anxiety, depression, anger, substance abuse, trauma, PTSD, attachment issues, grief and loss, and adjustment disorders.
In the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (Eagala) model, the therapist and equine specialist facilitate the process by creating a safe space where the client can project their feelings onto the horse. The professionals focus on the behavior of the horses instead of directly on the client. This relieves the pressure from the client to verbalize and explain their feelings, yet the client is still able to process their experiences at a deeper level. Many whom participate in EAP find it hard to explain their experience, but agree that progress is being made and they can “just feel it.”
In traditional talk therapy models the therapist acts as a mirror for the client, reflecting back their feelings and reframing their experience to help guide the session. In an EAP session, it is the horses who are mirroring the client’s behaviors. The treatment team point out shifts in behavior, patterns, unique events, and discrepancies to facilitate the client in processing their experience.
EAP allows clients the opportunity to develop awareness of their behavioral patterns and process their emotions as they interact with horses. As prey animals, horses are highly attuned to their environment as they search for predators and threats to their herd. Additionally, they are highly social and intelligent creatures. They pick up on the non-verbal cues we bring into session and respond to them immediately in a non-judgmental and authentic way.
This mirroring process shows clients how their body language and internal state affect their interactions with others. In order to create connection with the horses, clients must learn to self-regulate, manage their difficult emotions, and change their behaviors.
Additionally, watching the reactions and behaviors of the horses offers opportunities for the client to identify metaphors that can provide additional insight about what is going on in their own lives.
As an alternative to traditional talk therapy methods, EAP offers a hands on experience for personal and professional growth. While there are several wonderful certification programs for EAP, Eagala remains the global standard for EAP services. Eagala currently has roughly 4,500 registered members throughout the world. Their model adheres to four core standards and involves a certification process of trainings and continued education for its members.
Core Standards for Eagala:
To learn more about the Eagala model you can visit their site at http://www.eagala.org.
To find a program near you, simply visit the Eagala website and search for your region.
Tailwinds Therapy is an Eagala certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapy provider located in Clovis, California. We offer Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning activities for the treatment of anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trauma, and difficulty with life transitions. We serve individuals (ages 8 and up), couples, families, and groups.
All services are ground-based and no previous horse experience is necessary to benefit from services.
Please visit our website for more information at http://www.tailwindstherapy.com or contact us today at 559-387-4367 for a free phone consultation to find out if this service is right for you.