Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for mental and behavioral health therapy and personal development. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, 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 the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses, dynamic and powerful living beings.
Not all programs or individuals who use horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed (in the U.S.) and properly qualified (outside the U.S.) mental health professionals need to be involved. 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, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is similar to EAP but where the focus is on learning or educational goals. EAL still involves the team of mental health professional and horse professional working with the clients and horses. The focus however is on education and learning specific skills as defined by the individual or group, such as improved product sales for a company, leadership skills for a school group, or resiliency training for our military warriors.
WHY WE USE HORSES?
Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instruction, and caring for horses naturally affects the people involved in a positive manner.
The benefits of work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication, and healthy relationships has long been recognized. Horses naturally provide these benefits. The use of horses is growing and gaining popularity with the rise of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning.
We are often asked, “Why horses? Why not other animals?”
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 is EAL and EAP (2014, July 4). Retrieved from: http://www.eagala.org/Information/What_Is_EAP_EAL