Trauma Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP) involves having horses as part of the therapy process. Horses are prey animals and spend a great deal of time in the survival part of their brain, just as trauma survivors do. Neurobiological and neuropsychiatric research suggests that the effects of trauma disrupt the way the brain normally processes and stores information and memories, including the traumatic event. Working with horses in a guided, therapeutic setting facilitates healthy reorganization of neurological pathways in the brain to help the trauma victim overcome the survival responses that typically linger following the trauma and to begin operating out of the higher, thinking regions of the brain (the neocortex) once again.
Horses are more “honest” in their responses to the behaviors and internal emotional states of humans than many other animal species, which allows clients to take responsibility for the type of relationship they are building with their horse. People tend to recreate patterns of relationship that are comfortable and familiar to them, and ultimately will end up doing that with their therapy horse, allowing the therapist and client to see the dynamics unfold and be addressed in real time as they are occurring. This form of experiential therapy can be much more effective than simply talking about the pattern in the therapy office and leaving the client to try to make changes on his or her own in the outside world.
Clients find that “making mistakes” and experiencing failure in their attempts to build connection with their therapy horse feels much safer and less weighty than in their human relationships. The stakes are simply lower. Horses do not hold grudges and will respond immediately when the client makes an honest, authentic bid for connection, unlike human beings, who often mistrust these early attempts at re-connecting in a conflicted relationship pattern. The fear of rejection is less intense and can be worked through more easily with their equine partner than with their human partner.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be done while mounted on horseback, with the horse providing the bilateral stimulation required for this kind of therapy. The stabilizing, calming presence of the horse during EMDR adds a layer of safety which facilitates effective processing of the traumatic memories being addressed.
If you are interested in TF-EAP and/or Equine EMDR, please contact Kathleen Choe for more information.