Archives for March, 2011
With equine therapy abounding, it has quickly become a status symbol among the country’s most prestigious treatment centers. However, while promulgating their use of horses to uncover the hidden emotions of substance abuse and dual diagnosis patients has become popular, many centers have also struggled with how best to offer this valuable treatment.
Recently, a member of the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA), www.narha.org. posed an important question. New to the field of equine therapy, and only just beginning to amass an understanding of the practice, this horse enthusiast was wondering, of the many certifications now available if the horse healing world, which would be best?
Human attachments are a complex business. For one thing, when two people come together, they are often unaware of just what it is about one another that creates the attraction. On the other hand, when we are repelled by another person, identifying what about them bothers us is not the problem, yet why this behavior or characteristic infuriates us is quite another matter. But in the world of psychology, categorizing attachments styles has shed much light into the complexities of relationships. Now enter horses. When a horse and a person meet, are horses prone to the same types of attachments that people are? That is to say, can we actually classify their relationship with us, or one another into categories the way we do with people?
One of the first things a therapist does when sitting with a client for the first time is attempt to assess the diagnostic impression of the client. However, with the multitude of problems that often present, and the nuances inevitably floating around the room, getting a clear clinical picture on the client can be quite challenging. While the litany of inventories and questionnaires available to the therapist can be of some assistance, it can still feel as if something is missing. Even seasoned therapists can begin to question their diagnostic skill in the face of a challenging client. And when the face to face interview, and diagnostic tests leave questions, is it possible equine therapy can help fill in some of the diagnostic holes?
Recently, the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, (EFMHA), and the forerunner of equine related healing North American Riding for the Handicapped, (NARHA), joined forces. Before equine facilitated mental health came along, equine therapy was known as riding for the handicapped. While this form of therapy was, and still is, quite valuable in reestablishing physical capacities for those with disabilities, the emotional and psychological functioning of these children (and adults) was not addressed. However, the two founding members of EFMHA, Barbara Rector (www.adventuresinawareness.net) and Ann Alden MA, CEIP-ED (www.borderlandscenter.com), both registered NARHA instructors, soon began to realize that with increased equine contact, the social, emotional, and psychological condition of people changed.
While separate and distinct theoretical approaches have been well recognized in traditional therapy settings for many years, equine therapy has been categorized as experiential from the beginning. Especially for those who are not familiar to the unique modality of healing horses can offer, it has been all too easy to simply place this form of therapy into the same category as rope courses, art therapy, and wilderness courses. Yet, in classifying equine therapy in this way, not only has the feeling and understanding of the work been stilted, but also the fact that in incorporating horses into the therapeutic dimension, separate theories have evolved, just as with traditional therapy, has been missed.