Reconnecting with Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy.
Sharon Campbell Rayment experienced a horseback riding accident in 2008 that changed her life forever. Ten days after the accident, she awoke, only to realize she had lost the ability to speak. When she was able to speak again, she discovered she had a wee Scottish brogue. She is one of only 60 people in the world with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition in which patients attain a foreign dialect as the result of a head trauma.
Days blurred into weeks and months as Sharon experienced a hypersensitivity to noise, lights and crowds that isolated her from her family, prevented her from returning to work and took away her enjoyment of life. “It was not until February of 2009 that I had a definite memory,” she says. “Before that, I fl owed in and out of depression, sinking into the abyss for months. The woman I was before the accident had disappeared and I desperately wanted her to return.”
Equine Support System
In the spring of 2009, Sharon was led to the FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) Program at Horse Spirit Connections. “In the presence of these quiet, non-judgmental horses, my confidence grew and my stuttering decreased as I learned to breathe deeply and be present to the moment, rather than losing myself in negative internal dialogue,” she says. “I was able to understand and compassionately accept and adjust to my ‘spatial claustrophobia’ when I was around others, and this enabled me to appreciate emotional intelligence and resiliency, and allow my feelings to support, rather than overwhelm me. The immediacy of the horses’ response, their art of non-verbal communication and mirroring of my feelings and thoughts, enabled me to go beyond the traditional treatment therapies I had previously accessed.”
Sharon is now a graduate of the FEEL Certification program. Today, she and her herd of 11 horses help others ‘create harmony within’, as she did with the horses at Horse Spirit Connections. She specifically deals with what she defines as “CLD – the Cope Less Disorder”, experienced by many who have had mild to moderate brain trauma and are less able to cope with light, noise and crowds. Horses help people reconnect Both Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) and Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) are new healing modalities in which the participant is at the center of their own experience with the horse as teacher, and practitioners facilitating their learning by providing observation and feedback.
• Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that maximizes the partnerships of therapist and facilitator with the horse as teacher. This dynamic therapy helps people confront their fears and heal their wounds, reconnecting them with their natural ability to heal.
• Equine Facilitated Learning is based on an emotionally intimate partnership with the horse, where the greatest potential for health and well being can be found. Using mindfulness techniques, people learn more effectively as they find their own answers from within, instead of seeking answers from an expert. The horses go straight to the heart of the matter and bring about positive change.
It has been said that horse-assisted therapy can bring about change more rapidly. One of the reasons is that instead of actively seeking to intellectually resolve past issues, new patterns of thoughts, feelings and somatic experiences are created and strengthened.
How Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy Works
Engaging with horses allows people to experience pure, authentic relationships, often for the first time. They feel safe exploring ‘relationship’ with a horse who offers unconditional support and love, without judgment. This starts the process of trusting self and others. Being in the presence of a horse brings feelings to the surface. This creates an opportunity for emotional learning as people identify their feelings with greater ease and clarity, opening the door to new choices for relationship and emotional growth. The horse-human experience also lays the foundation for safe physical affection. For some, feeling the healing benefits of non-threatening touch is a rare opportunity.
Being hugged by a horse is a profound and tender moment. In the end, people better understand their own behavior when they see it reflected in the horse. They begin to see themselves and the world in new ways, helping them self-regulate and develop rapport. The large physical presence of the horse provides a means for people to confront fear and gain more courage and confidence. Performance accomplishment is the single most efficient way to increase self-confidence.
Who Benefits from Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?
Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is an alternative to more traditional ‘talk therapy’, this modality can help adolescents and adults deal with a wide variety of mental health issues:
– Negative patterns
– Substance abuse/addiction
Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is a powerful and transformative experience for anyone seeking change in their lives. It is rapidly gaining credibility as people talk about their amazing experiences with these majestic creatures. While scientists and doctors are continually finding new evidence of how this relationship with horses manifests change, the horses continue to demonstrate that it works!
In Good Company
“When I became a certified FEEL Facilitator, several people who had been seeing me for therapy decided to also try the FEEL equine work,” says Jody Raven, an Equine Facilitated Therapist and FEEL Trainer at Horse Spirit Connections. “One of my clients found a much deeper sense of herself through working with the horses. Initially, she was so fearful of approaching them that she would become very disconnected by the time she was in their company. We spent weeks backing up, slowing down and learning about the triggers in her body so she could begin to internally manage her anxiety. This work of slowing down also helped her become aware of the impatience that dogged her every step; she learned about her tendency to not listen to herself and to push too hard, not just in equine work but in everything in her life. Over many sessions, she began to respect and care for herself as she never had before. As her self capacities grew, her ability to be with the horses changed and she stepped into a more connected relationship with them than she believed possible in the beginning. This process mirrors her own growing relationship with herself.
“Like all approaches, Equine Facilitated Therapy is different for everyone who practices it. My practice arises out of the solid precepts of the FEEL way of working with people; I honor and work with the primary healing energy of the relationship between horse and human. My role is to bridge communication and ultimately restore a person’s confidence in her own ability to sense, feel and know her own truth. The horses are the natural teachers in the space – more often than not, the power of what happens is in the purity of direct communication between horse and human. One of the advantages of this work is that I never work alone.”
Why Horses Make Good Facilitators
Horses have ensured their survival through highly sensitive /environment. Unlike humans, who rely mainly on intellect, horses access the wisdom of their entire bodies, allowing them to read and respond to the energy around them.
We communicate with horses in their own language. By being in relationship with these wise teachers and giving them ‘choice’, we help them become more sentient and develop their therapeutic skills. They attune to the clients and pay attention to their emotional states and body language. Horses actually listen to us at a very dievent and deeper level than what we’re used to. This resonance creates a palpable sense of connection and the horses respond in the moment to this connection. People can interact with the insightful reactions of the horse, change their own behaviour and experience the positive impact of that change.
Wendy Golding is dedicated to helping people through the wisdom of the horse. Horse Spirit Connections is a not-for-profit corporation located 45 minutes north of Toronto. There they run EFL workshops, private sessions, EFP sessions, and FEEL Certification Training for people who are looking for practical training and experience in the expanding field of equine-guided healing. horsespiritconnections.com