Archives for April, 2012
There are many reasons people do things, and often, these motivations are not obvious to the external world. While we tend to portray motivation as the desire to do something, motivation can also represent the desire to return to something. The concept of motivation as a regressive experience was first discussed by Freud, who introduced the concept of repetition compulsion. According to Freud, repetition compulsion happens for two reasons. While both are unconscious processes, the first is lodged in the patient’s physiology.
While most of us think we have a decent amount of self control - we can control our behavior with relative certainty - does this ability to self regulate extend to our physiological lives? Can we determine if we are in fact anxious, depressed, angry or afraid? In order to do this, we would have to be able to detect what is often hidden under the surface, beneath conscious thought.
Perfectionism drives human performance to elite levels, often helping a person achieve unequaled accomplishments. However, the push to be great can also have a deleterious effect on a person’s mood, and certainly, relationships. Often those around the perfectionist feel disregarded or inadequate. But what if the relationship with the perfectionist involves a horse? Horses have a unique way of telling us the truth about ourselves, at times revealing parts of our character that are hidden or overlooked. For a perfectionist, a person who spends a great deal of time insuring that character deficits are avoided, this can often be a little disconcerting. On the other hand, the horse’s response to a perfectionist can also be relieving.
“Head toward you, body away.” The petite dressage trainer held her arm out motioning to the timid woman just how to keep her massive 17.2 hand, warmblooded horse out of her space. “See,” she continued, “this isn’t even about being nice or not nice, this is about being safe -- you know -- you are little and he is huge, and he could really do some damage." Buckling my horse’s bridle and gathering the reins in one hand, I headed out to the arena. As I watched just how my once rogue mare now so carefully watched the very feet she wouldn’t so much as hesitate to smash just two months prior, I thought to myself just how that transformation had occurred.
While horses can teach us many things, perhaps the most important thing we can understand is how to take another’s perspective. Never is this more important than with autistic children. Autism came into the public eye recently with the release of the well received “The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son” by Rupert Isaccson. The book was then made into a movie, and Isaacson created a foundation to promulgate his methods when working with autistic children. The website for Isaacson’s foundation discusses many aspects of both autism and classical dressage riding, beautifully infusing the two to create a template for understanding not only the reality of autism, but life through fundamental dressage principles.
One of the first things we lose when depressed is the feeling of physical strength. We may sleep more, or have insomnia, either way ending up tired. We may also eat more, binge eat, or lose our appetite, again, ending up feeling not our best physically. And yet when we go to therapy, what do we focus on? We dwell on the things that made us depressed, such as a failed relationship, a loss of a loved one, an unexpected life change, or our lack of connection to those around us. However, we may all the while completely miss the fact that if we do not feel physically well, feeling mentally well is not very possible.
Equine therapy is many things. Powerful. Innovative. Spiritual. However, there are also many things that equine therapy is not. Unfortunately, like any alternative treatment modality, work with horses has been subject to its share of misinterpretations. As these incorrect beliefs have surfaced, those who work in the field have had to answer many questions, in service of clarifying what equine therapy really is.
In the field of psychotherapy, the concept of ethical responsibilities is a very important one. Inherent in this responsibility is every therapist's duty to protect and do no harm to the client. And in the field of equine therapy nothing is different, except the horse. Do practicing equine therapists think about the ethical treatment of the horse? Probably not as much as they should. In the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s (EAGALA) published code of ethics, unfortunately, not once is the ethical treatment of the horse mentioned. Consequently, EAGALA has been criticized for their treatment of the horse as a therapeutic tool -- an object, if you will -- as opposed to a sentient being. At the time EAGALA was coming into it’s own, the North American Handicapped Riding Association (NAHRA), which had been in existence for many years, was doing some changing.