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Equine Therapy vs other forms of therapy

When considering Equine Assisted Psychotherapy it may be helpful to understand how it compares to other forms of therapy available. The choice of therapy is a very personal and there are unique benefits to all accredited therapeutic interventions. This article does not attempt to prove one therapy over the other. Instead it highlights five main reasons that makes Equine Assisted Psychotherapy unique so the reader can form their own judgements.

Here are the five main differences which are expanded upon below; 1. It is a fully embodied, holistic experience. 2. It has shown to be effective over a shorter period of time. 3. It is more about 'doing' than 'talking'. 4. It allows relational dynamics to unfold with more ease. 5. It takes place in a paddock with free roaming horses.

1. It is a fully embodied, holistic experience.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy helps people work through their difficulties in a fully embodied, holistic way allowing their subconscious state to arise with total clarity. In other words, instead of sitting in a chair talking through their difficulties, the person is able to bring a more complete picture of their situation to the table (or paddock, in this case) - their way of being, their emotional state, their patterns of behaviour and their natural reaction to others - all become apparent, without the pressure of words, in the first few minutes of a session.

2. It has shown to be effective over a shorter period of time.

This ‘complete picture’ allows a deeper level of self awareness, and subsequent resolution, as it cuts through the usual barrier of language and conscious control of practiced responses. Unsurprisingly, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy has proven to be effective over much shorter periods of time when compared to talking therapy and other experiential interventions that are more likely to be effective over time, sometimes over several months or years. Typically, this form of therapy is provided in short blocks (of three - six weekly sessions) and is followed up with monthly maintenance sessions when required. Sessions are more expensive per hour than other forms of therapy - £250 per session compared to £50-£100 - but the shorter treatment duration means that the overall cost of therapy is usually less or at least comparable with other forms of therapy.

3. It is more about 'doing' than 'talking'.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy involves more ‘doing’ than ‘talking’. It lends from experiential learning theory which proves that when people are able to try out new ways of being in a safe environment they are more able to replicate it in their lives. For example, when a horse reacts to a person with persistent nudging and invasion of the persons’ personal space it is often a sign that this behaviour is being ‘allowed’ by the person in their lives. Once this is recognised by the person the facilitator may suggest something along the lines of, ‘What could you do to change this behaviour?’ The person may react by asserting more authority, by changing position, or simply by recognising the dynamic at play.

4. It allows relational dynamics to unfold with more ease.

Often when a person seeks therapy what they need is as much about understanding themselves better as it is about helping other people to understand their behaviour and underlying needs. Parent/carer/teacher and child pairings are incredibly helpful at demonstrating existing relationship dynamics and pinpointing ways of supporting each other at a deeper level. It allows the unsaid to be said in a non threatening way, through the reaction of the horses. For example, if a child and parent enters the paddock and the parent immediately defaults to encouraging the child to interact with the horses, this may well signal a pattern that has emerged in their everyday lives. When the horses start to react differently to each person or when they choose to spend time with one horse over another, realisations about what they each bring and need from the relationship become apparent. Sometimes it’s as simple as a parent, carer or teacher recognising the feelings and the needs of the child in a setting that does not require explanation or awkward conversation. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy can be booked individually or in pairs and in family groups or small groups of similar ages and difficulties.

5. It takes place in a paddock with free roaming horses.

Having therapy in a paddock with free roaming horses gives the opportunity to be in nature and reconnect with our natural world. This is a wonderful side effect of this therapeutic treatment, proven to lower stress hormones and build self-esteem and empathy. When people feel less stressed they are more able to make sense of their situation and find resolution. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy falls into the same category as experiential therapies such as art, play and sand tray. The main difference is that the horses provide instantaneous feedback on what is unfolding allowing the person to become conscious of old patterns that they may have become stuck in. Furthermore the pressure to explain and rationalise the process is taken away allowing more space for solutions to emerge.

Note: there are many forms of loosely termed ‘equine therapy’ currently available however they are not necessarily a form of evidence based psychotherapy. Some teach horsemanship techniques, life skills and therapeutic riding - which are all wonderful experiences for people of all ages and abilities - but are not focused on unblocking emotional difficulties unique to the individual and aiding the recovery of established mental health conditions.

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