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?
Horses, as a facet of their inherent nature, do pick up on often covert feelings, thoughts and behaviors, that are largely missed by those around the client. Because they relate through physiological responses, as oppose to verbal, and ones, horses entire communication system is based on what is felt, be it obvious to the naked eye or not. This is in fact how horses perceive the safety of the world around them, but also how they determine patterns of behavior, including hierarchy, roles, rules, and expectations.
On the other hand, people frequently mask these same physiological responses as they may not be socially appropriate, or acceptable. For example, meeting someone for the first time and bluntly stating a distaste for their smarmy nature may not go over so well at a social gathering. Instead what is easier is to stifle this feeling, smile sweetly, and go on with the night.
Yet when this happens the feelings of perhaps, disgust, anger, and even fear are hidden but not lost. The physiological response created by these emotions is still alive and well, however, may have even passed the conscious awareness of the person experiencing them. As people become more accustomed to hiding unacceptable emotions, thoughts and behavior, stifling them becomes more automatic. Over time, recognizing them becomes increasingly more challenging — even to the seasoned therapist.
Yet this is where horses do their best work. With a survival system founded on interpreting and responding to physiological responses, horses simply cannot ignore them as humans can. And the responses the give to the otherwise veiled client can be a goldmine to even a seasoned therapist.
Photo by Pete Markham, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 20 Mar 2011