Equine Assisted Therapy

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is an research based method of therapy  in which horses are used as a tool for emotional growth and learning. EAP is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional. Because of the intensity and effectiveness of EAP, it is considered a short-term, or “brief” approach.

EAP is experiential in nature. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. This approach has been compared to ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. EAP has an added advantage of utilizing horses, dynamic and powerful living beings.

Not all programs or individuals who use horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. First a licensed clinical professional need to be involved for it to be considered “psychotherapy”. The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities involving the horses which will require the client or group to apply certain skills. Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem-solving, leadership, work, taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence, and attitude are several examples of the tools utilized and developed by EAP.

EAP is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, 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.

What is Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?

Equine facilitated psychotherapy provides clinical assessment and treatment of mental health needs through equine assisted activities. EFP denotes an established therapeutic relationship with clearly established treatment goals and objectives developed by the client and his or her therapist. The therapist must be an appropriately credentialed mental health professional to legally practice psychotherapy.

EFP takes mental health and learning practices “to the barn” as an experiential approach to personal growth and healing. The partnership that is developed between the clients or students and their horse provides an alternative opportunity to the traditional mental health and education services. The EFP sessions are goal oriented to meet the clientele’s needs in an individual, group, or family setting. Within the field of equine-assisted activities, EFP add the emotional and cognitive aspects of treating the whole person and help them with their needs in a multi-dimensional way.

EAGALA method, reality therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

The EAGALA Model is an experiential modality. According to the Association for Experiential Education (see www.aee.org), the principles of experiential practice are:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the client to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the process, the client is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Clients are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results are personalized and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: client to self and client to others.
  • The client may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because outcomes of the experience cannot be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured to explore and examine personal values.
  • The facilitator’s roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, support, ensuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The facilitator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Facilitators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these can influence clients.
  • The learning experience design includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes.

To these experiential principles EAGALA adds the dynamic of horses, which provide various benefits in the process.

What is it about horses that make this effective?

Naturally intimidating to many, horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. Like humans, horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods; an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning, an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups. Horses require us to work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the “easy way” are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable lesson in all aspects of life. Most importantly, horses mirror human body language. Many complain, “This horse is stubborn. That horse doesn’t like me,” etc. The lesson is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.

What if one has a fear of horses and never learned to ride?

The EAGALA Model does not include riding – all sessions take place on the ground with horses. Allowing horses to be themselves and respond to the clients’ non-verbal messages enhances the opportunity for growth and learning as fears surface and are addressed in the context of other fears clients may face in their lives.

What are Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning. It is a collaborative effort between a qualified Mental Health Professional and an Equine Specialist working with clients and horses to address treatment goals. Activities with horses are designed to reflect life issues. This allows the client and therapist to “see” where problems are and find workable solutions. Clients quickly recognize unhealthy patterns and enact new behaviors. Horses don’t accept “talk” – clients have to make authentic changes to affect horses’ responses. Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) involves a similar process but focuses on educational and human/organizational development goals in this highly interactive and impactful learning approach.

What are the model’s benefits?

The EAGALA Model provides a structure and standard. This standard includes a certification process, code of ethics and ethics committee, and ongoing professional education and development requirements, assuring a level of professionalism. Because of their size and history with humans, horses have a unique appeal worldwide. This can help make the therapeutic process more engaging. The EAGALA Model is solution-focused and client-centered which assumes clients possess their own best solutions, and need only the opportunity to discover them. Because of this and the non-verbal nature and appeal of horses, the EAGALA Model has grown worldwide, crossing cultures and countries. EAGALA provides clients the opportunities to do more than talk – they learn from their experience, which tends to have longer-lasting impact.

How many sessions are necessary to see results?

Like any mental health treatment or human development support, the number of sessions is quite individualized. However, professionals and clients alike report that the time spent in an EAGALA session has an impact that would commonly take several sessions, even months, in typical office therapy settings.

Will insurance cover this therapy?

Yes. Rules and regulations that govern mental health coverage in a person’s insurance apply to this work as well. The EAGALA Model is a psychotherapy process and can be billed as such by the proper professionals following the individual insurance guidelines.

What types of issues does this modality address?

EAGALA Certified professionals are incorporating the model into work on diverse issues, goals and populations. This can range from trauma, abuse, depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, and other mental health and behavioral needs to educational objectives like working with business groups and leaders, schools, and other growth and learning needs.

Is there any research to prove this model’s efficacy?

EAGALA Model EAP is solidly grounded in well-established and researched theories of psychotherapy including Gestalt Psychotherapy, Solution-Focused Psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy and Experiential Psycho¬therapy. The EAGALA Model is a clinical advance on these established practices where the incorporation of horses in psychotherapy is a deliberate, principled, thoughtful and professional catalyst to change. As with many advances in clinical practice, clinical success precedes systematic study. • EAGALA Model EAP has effectively been employed in the treatment of numerous behavioral and emotional disorders that are traditionally resistant to intervention and change including conduct disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders. Clinical practice has led to academic interest where numerous studies have explored the effectiveness of EAP. Despite a variety of methodological weaknesses, the findings of these studies are remarkably consistent, providing support for the effectiveness of EAP with a variety of clients, highlighting the need for further study. • Two studies to date have employed randomized control group designs to examine EAP effectiveness. Focusing on different populations (distressed couples and at-risk youth); both studies compared EAP with empirically validated interventions using valid and reliable measures. EAP was found to be equally or more effective than established interventions in both studies. *Trotter, K., Chandler, C., Goodwin-Bond, D., & Casey, J. (2008). A comparative study of the efficacy of group equine assisted counseling with at-risk children and adolescents. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, Vol. 3(3), 254-284. *Russell-Martin, L.A. (2006). Equine facilitated couples therapy and Solution Focused couples therapy: A comparative study. Doctorate of Philosophy, Northcentral University. EAGALA is committed to empirical research as an important tool in identifying best practices. objectives being learned.

Is Equine therapy more or less cost-effective than talk therapy and why?

Because EAGALA involves a professional team, the cost per session is higher than a psychotherapy session in the office. However, because of the impact that occurs for clients in less time, most report the EAGALA approach is more cost-effective when taken as a whole treatment process. Changes begin the first session. Treatment is often completed within 8 sessions.

What does a session look like?

The Mental Health Professional and Equine Specialist set up activities with the horses designed to reflect real life issues. This allows the client and therapist to “see” where problems are and find workable solutions. Clients quickly recognize unhealthy patterns as the horses mirror them. When the client makes a sincere, consistent change, the horses immediate¬ly reflect this as well. Here’s an example: the horses represent a client’s “children” and the struggle in getting the children to “listen” may be represented by working to get the horses over some obstacle. The horses will respond to the client’s non-verbal messages and generally behave just like the client’s own children. Until the client can discover new tools and abilities to become more confident as a parent, the horses (“children”) will not “behave.” Sessions like this are created to parallel any issues or goals clients wish to address.