Working with a 1,500 pound animal alone can be intimidating, but when equine therapy programs are as varied and sometimes loosely structured as they are today, the choice of just where to go to begin can also be quite overwhelming.
So what does the potential equine therapy client need to ask to make an informed choice about the right equine therapy program for him/her?
Well, as with anything that is active in nature and involves potential risk of injury, the potential equine therapy client should first gain clearance from his/her doctor before beginning an equine therapy program. Following this clearance, however, the client who is interested in equine therapy can be helped by asking the following questions:
- What would I most like to accomplish through equine therapy? Often people enter therapy because the pain of remaining where they are outweighs the pain of the efforts to change. However, what is often clouded by the pain is just what the person may want to accomplish. I do not mean simply “feeling better,” but pinpointing just what you would like to change.
- What do I feel my specific needs are? Everyone is unique, and we all have life histories that are specific to only us. We all come into relationships with individual needs. Of course, in order to have fulfilling relationships, we need our needs to be met, or at least to know what they are. Once we know what our needs are, we can then pursue activities and relationships that will help us meet them. Considering what your unique needs are will help you choose the equine therapy program that is right for you.
- What therapeutic orientations appeal to me? Not every client responds well to cognitive-behavioral approaches, and conversely, some clients are put off by psychoanalytic methods. As equine therapy programs tend to branch between the two, it will be helpful for you to spend some time contemplating which orientation appeals most to you.
- What training and/or certifications does the equine therapy center hold? There are a variety of certifications for equine therapy. Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, (EAGALA), Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, (PATH), and Certified Equine Interaction Professionals (CEIP), are just a few. While PATH has been around the longest, growing out of the North American Handicapped riding Association (NAHRA), CEIP is also quite reputable, and EAGALA has certified a great many professionals. In looking for an equine therapy program, one thing to consider is that no program should ever been offering psychotherapy from an unlicensed person, regardless of certification. In order for a program to offer equine therapy, a licensed psychotherapist or mental health professional must be present. Additionally, an experienced horse handler (which in some rare cases can also be the psychotherapist) should also be present.
- What types of clients is the equine therapy center equipped to treat? Some equine therapy programs are designed to only deal with physical disabilities and not mental health, while others are targeted only for those with addictive disorders. Spending some time to research just what types of clients the equine therapy center is able to treat, and has treated in the past, will help eliminate the possibility that your needs will fall outside of their scope of practice.
Hopefully, spending some time asking these questions will help you make an informed decision on what is a very powerful and innovative therapeutic intervention.
Horse and rider photo available from Shutterstock