For those who work in trauma, the concept of repetition compulsion — or the tendency to recreate traumatic experiences that are similar to the original trauma — is nothing new. However, foreigners to the world of trauma can often shake their heads at the seemingly bazaar habit of those around them to “keep doing the same thing, expecting different results.”
From the inside, it make perfect sense. Your brain is simply trying to maintain what is now normal — that is operating in trauma mode, complete with elevated epinephrine, norepinephrine, and lowered serotonin. Yet, it is understandable that this behavior can defy logic, and put those immersed in it at odds with friends. The good news is that trauma specialists are well equipped to manage this reaction to overwhelming and terrifying circumstances. The not so good news is that those who’ve had trauma can unknowingly recreate it in their lives through their many relationships — even those with horses.
According to Mental Health America (www.nmha.org), about 20% of the population suffers from depression, and among those, as much as 30% also suffer from anxiety, and/or a history of panic attacks. To be sure, mood disorders are not a small problem, especially considering the probable large number of undiagnosed cases. And while there are a litany of ways to treat mood disorders, they are not always the most easily treated.
For one thing, depressives tend to isolate, thereby precluding therapeutic interventions. On the other hand, those with high anxiety have trouble maintaining therapeutic gains, and for this reason, may downplay the benefits of therapy. So while traditional talk therapy may not always be the easiest way to treat these disorders, sometimes spending time with a horse can be just the trick.
For those who are new to equine therapy, the work itself can seem groundbreaking, however, for those of us in the field, there are only a few true pioneers. It is these people who perform the imperative research with the devotion necessary to give validity to a therapeutic modality that is inherently hard to prove.
For one thing, equine therapy is not as easy to define as say, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and is practiced in much less structured ways. Combine this fact with traditional psychotherapy’s natural skepticism, and you have a research study that is very hard to publish.
The search for meaning is nothing new. In fact, recent statistics prove the point: most people change careers nine times over the course of their life. And certainly the core questions of who we are, what matters most to us, what we believe, value and pursue can resurface at almost any time of change.
For most people, the pondering of identity is nothing short of unsettling, and in many ways, disorienting. As this is the case, a multitude of theories have been presented, with most aimed at redefining meaning, and uncovering latent strengths. However, despite the intention of these strategies, we can still feel a bit disconnected. And this is where equine therapy can be effective.
For most therapists, dealing with a borderline patient can be like trying to heal an infection without antibiotics. Try remedy after remedy, and the oozing may stop temporarily, but the infection still brews under the surface. In fact, many therapists even refuse to see borderline patients. So this makes one wonder, just how do horses respond to borderlines?
Interestingly, this question crossed my mind recently as I reflected on a former client of mine. Presented with the job of training her young horse, I accepted, completely unaware of what I was getting into. While I was informed that her horses was a biter, what I wasn’t told was that left to his own devices, he was nothing short of malicious. In fact, he’d come after people in the stall with teeth barred. He hated to be touched, constantly had his ears pinned, and had even kicked people in the past.
While the presentation of narcissism can often be difficult to tolerate, and certainly challenging for therapists to work with, the elevated sense of self, characteristic grandiosity, and lack of empathy often disguise the underlying feelings of shame and inadequacy.
Making treatment of narcissism even more dicey is the narcissist’s persistent denial of any of these feelings, or any flaws whatsoever. However, without becoming aware of what uncomfortable feelings lie under the surface, the prospects for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships remain very fractured for the narcissist.
While this may be a sticking place for many therapists, and the narcissist himself, this is also where equine therapy can be helpful.