Let’s break down some of the ways that Equine Assisted Social Work sessions can support us to grow and develop.
Equine Assisted Social Work Sessions offer a professional, evidence based and empowering approach to Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Mental Health that supports clients of all ages in addressing therapeutic or life goals, with horses as assistants and teachers in this process. Equine Assisted Social Work sessions will include an Equine Assisted Therapy model of intervention as well as other evidence-based interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy, somatic based therapy, narrative therapy, play therapy and of course are always trauma informed and client centred in their approach.
We know that it can feel wonderful to spend time with horses but just how can they help us:
- Co-regulation and Resourcing: being with horses that are regulated as well as completing activities such as grooming, being with, leading with and even riding can offer a safe and rhythmic sensory and somatic experience. These experiences can calm the brainstem and limbic system which can help us regulate and soothe our nervous system. Experiencing coregulation with another can help us to learn how to feel safe and help us learn how to support and soothe ourselves.
- Unique Feedback: Horses offer us non-judgmental feedback if we take the time to listen. They can let us know how we are in relationships and what this is like for the other. Horses are prey animals and have evolved to have a heightened sensitivity for responding to changes, this means that they are very sensitive and aware. We can use this feedback to reflect on our own functioning, behavior and communication styles, which can support us to grow and learn.
- Emotional Safety and Trust: For many of us we will feel safe and more at home with animals then with people. For this reason it can be helpful to start working on trusting others and creating healthy and safe relationships with horses first. Once we feel safe with the horses then we can start to explore relationships with humans.
- Authentic Relationship: Horses offer authentic physical, non-verbal relationship with humans. During sessions we are exposed to another (the horse/s) responding honestly rather than behaving the way they should and following societal rules or norms. This honest exchange can help us to reflect on our own behavior and increase our skills in relationships.
- Validation: Horses can offer a non-judgmental and validating presence. When we experience this it can become a powerful corrective emotional experience. For many of us we may not have experienced safe and nonjudgmental relationships with others, spending time with horses can help us to experience this. Horses don’t judge us the way humans may. This may be the first time a client has experienced unconditional positive regard, validation or experienced love.
- Bring to mind: Being with horses can bring to mind current and past feelings for us. These may be feelings or needs that have been unconscious or that we have been unaware of. If these feelings show up during sessions we can notice them and explore the need and how to support ourselves.
- Move, Touch and Hold: being with horses offers clients a sensory and somatic experience that is unique. Horses can nuzzle, push into and touch participants in ways that we can’t with clients. Clients can also touch, groom, hug and be close with horses in ways they can’t with their therapist or sometimes even other humans in their life. Clients can be held both physically and emotionally either on the ground or during mounted sessions. Sensory experiences including touch and movement assist in healthy brain development and functioning.
- Individual Qualities, strengths and parts: Horses are individuals and have their own personalities, likes and dislikes as well as ways of being. Spending time with horses can help us to notice, explore and accept our own uniqueness and differences.
- Model: Horses are fantastic role models for healthy functioning. Horses can teach us about the following:
- Being present, in the moment and living mindfully.
- Being in the breath and the body.
- Being authentic.
- Using feelings as information.
- No judgement.
- Belonging and herd life.
- Life as a process of living.
- Boundaries: Horses can teach us about setting boundaries as well as responding to boundaries set by others. It can be challenging to learn how to set boundaries with others and have the confidence to do this. Horses can model for us how to set boundaries but can also provide a non-judgemental space to practice setting boundaries.
During the 8 years that I have been offering Equine Assisted Social Work Sessions I have been able to witness the impact these beautiful animals have on others and their development. Horses are truly wonderful beings; their patience, awareness and sensitivity is a gift that we can work with to support ourselves and others.
For more information or to book a session feel free to contact Jess and the team on firstname.lastname@example.org.