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Equine Assisted Therapy: It doesn’t look, feel (or smell) like therapy.

In Psychology, we talk about something called ‘face validity.’ This is a fancy term for something looking like it serves or fits a particular purpose. We’re comforted by a type of formality or a specific procedure in a specific setting. It’s what we expect, even when it’s not connected with what we need.   When it comes to therapy, there are specific expectations that are a little old-fashioned. That doesn’t typically include standing on a hill, under the blue sky, or pouring your heart out to a horse. For example, you may expect an office setting, possibly a couch, and a lot of talking. This setting doesn’t work for everyone or for every challenge though.

Over time, we’re seeing more support for including music, dance, play, nature, and animals in therapy.   In equine-assisted therapy at Healing Grounds, there is no roof. There is wind and sunshine, and sometimes a little snow. Interacting with nature is immensely beneficial and even though it’s sometimes, cold, hot, or windy, the time outdoors improves our mental health. (Keep reading below)

 

There are also five therapists who are very good at their jobs.

They’re gentle, kind, patient, and excellent listeners. They just happen to eat hay. You may come away covered in horsehair and dust, but you’ll also come away changed.

 

Our equine-assisted therapy philosophy involves understanding and working with humans and animals using a positive, respectful, and evidence-based approach.   Even though it is fun, it can be as effective as traditional therapy for adults and young people. The work is rewarding and challenging, and often this makes it easier to practice new skills and process things that have happened in the past.

 

The client processes and learns by doing, not just by talking.  The client may lead the horse, groom the horse, or sometimes even ride the horse. There are benefits to this active approach! Clients are on their feet and moving for most of the sessions and the exercise is beneficial for mental health and well-being. Clients build friendships, trust, and connections with the horses and learn valuable social communication skills. Sometimes having a connection with an animal and petting them has medical and psychological benefits such as lowered stress levels. So, next time you’re interested in therapy, don’t ask your therapist whether they have a couch or not.


Ask them whether they have a horse. 


By Nicole Dodd (Member of the Canadian Psychological Association)


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