Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) can be used as a supplementary programme to assist clients in addiction treatment centres to gain personal insight into boundaries and relationships. It can help build bonds of trust and support for individuals and families, develop better verbal and nonverbal communication within relationships, increase attention span and readiness to learn about self and others and build confidence.
EAP uses a highly structured activity-based approach to promote personal growth and responsibility through the interaction with horses. It is becoming clear that this breaks down barriers more quickly than in normal process exercises with other people. In order to accomplish simple tasks one is taught how to speak the ‘language-of-horse’. This language is devoid of deception and manipulation simply because they do not work with horses. The sense of accomplishment is not only tied to a connection with and understanding of the horse, but to a connection and understanding of the self. In professional hands EAP can be used in residential care addressing addictions, mental/nervous disorders helping participants to gain insights, helping to understand boundaries with themselves as well as others. Transference and projection is a key component of learning about self in relation to others, but this seems to only work with humans: horses do not engage in transference and projection or transference and counter-transference. Horses are just horses.
One aspect of transference is an anthropomorphism which occurs frequently with animals. “He doesn’t like me.” or “He’s just like my ex-husband who loves to push me around.” This application of a tailored reality is often connected to any instance which is emotionally loaded. According to Robert Karen, PhD, author of Becoming Attached (1994), “any emotion not effectively dealt with becomes a source of shame.” Gaining insight to transference in relation to an animal that cannot provide counter-transference which mirrors emotional states is fertile ground for understanding ourselves better. Because horses are prey animals (not predators) they are uniquely designed to fit into a herd for survival and in order to do this effectively, horses have learned to engage with those around them on almost a cellular level. Horses know when you’re afraid, but they have no idea what you fear. If you are around horses, you are part of the herd for all practical purposes. One practical purpose is survival. If one member of the herd is scared of something, then the entire herd should be scared. That’s how the herd survives. The horse can sense your fear through rapid or shallow breathing, increased heart rate, even detect pheromones released through perspiration. I may not know I’m scared. I may not admit that I’m afraid, but the horse knows. Through these interactions in controlled environments people get a deeper understanding of themselves and therefore their problems.
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