What happens in a session?
Working with horses therapeutically is a difficult concept to imagine at first. If you have never been near horses you may carry an unexplored fear or if you have lots of conventional experience of horses - riding, showing, competing - you may not have gone beyond your immediate experience in controlling what they do.
This evidence based intervention, called equine assisted psychotherapy, allows horses to respond intuitively to how we make them feel allowing solutions to mental health conditions and behavioural patterns to emerge. No riding takes place and no experience or interest in horses is needed.
This article details the three key phases involved in each consultation so you know what to expect. The way each sessions unfolds and the reaction of the horses is always different and totally unique to you and your needs at the time.
PHASE 1 - PRE SESSION BRIEFING
Before your consultation we will ask you to fill out a brief form detailing your reason for seeking therapy and what you hope to achieve. We will also ask you to provide details of any medication or treatments that you are currently undertaking. This allows us to plan your first session in terms of horse selection, setting and structure.
When you arrive, and before we go to the horses, we will spend 10 minutes in the studio explaining the key aspects of the work and covering physical and emotional safety considerations. If you have any fear of horses we will discuss options around working from the other side of the fence and reducing the number of horses in your session. If you have experience of horses we will ask you to leave any knowledge or horsemanship behind and enter the session as if you entering a new group of ‘beings' whom you have never met.
PHASE 2 - CONTACT SESSION
We will then start your contact session with the horses either in a paddock or in a covered yard. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to interact, behave or interpret. Your only requirement is to ‘just be with what is’, allowing whatever comes up to come up and letting the session unfold as it needs to. The session typically lasts 50 mins but on occasions it may be necessary (and useful) to bring a session to a close earlier.
The first session is always ‘open’ which means you will be free to interact in whichever way feels comfortable. As this is an experiential therapy, meaning that it is more about the ‘doing’ than the ‘talking’, you will spend time simply being with the herd and interacting in a way that feels both natural and necessary. The horses are free to interact as they see fit and are not controlled via halters, ropes or comands. They have many years of experience working in this capacity and willingly accept people, whatever there level of distress, into their herd.
Sessions are facilitated by an fully qualified Equine Specialist and a licensed Mental Health Professional. The facilitators will be observing from a short distance in order to capture the detail of what presents. At certain intervals the facilitators will approach you to ask questions around the interaction, the reaction of the horses and the relevance in relation to your story. Subsequent sessions may involve the facilitators setting tasks for you to complete with the horses depending on the themes that present at the first session.
PHASE 3 - POST SESSION PROCESSING
Once your contact session is over we encourage you to jot down anything that comes to mind during the session and in the days that follow, however obscure they seem at the time - images, feelings, memories etc. are all relevant.
Once you have left the facilitators also make detailed notes capturing the horses reaction, the clients reaction and any themes and metaphors that arose. They will capture recommendations on treatment plan and frequency of future consultations if required.
We offer a 15-30 minute phone call in the days following the consultation to aid with session processing. This call is not an essential requirement from a therapeutic perspective but can often frame processing, and with the informed consent of the child, allows parents to follow progress during a programme of sessions.