As I’m coming up on the four-year anniversary of my private practice, I wanted to share some of how I have learned to include horses in the way I do things as a therapist. I have done a lot of learning with the equine-assisted therapy model and received certification, trained in EMDR a leading trauma treatment, and I have also not lost my foundation of TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) and attachment which I have been doing almost 10 years now. It has been bumpy learning to incorporate all that I find beneficial in a way that is authentic to me. I do think I have hit a good stride now, however! I am grateful to the clients these past four years and their teachings. For any future clients I wanted to share what sessions look like now at my practice. I have synthesized what I do with clients into two phases. The first phase is learning how to form a secure relationship with the horse. This involves improving on the attachment skills researched to be indicators of secure attachment: the ability to give care, receive care, have autonomy, and negotiate your needs.* This is the foundation in treating attachment and complex trauma that TBRI utilizes on for healing. As the client learns to make requests of the horse and form a trusting relationship, they naturally improve their coping skills and regulation in this work. We do also intentionally learn skills that improve obstacles in the moment and at home. Some of the skills are learned as a necessity in working to communicate your needs to an emotionally attuned being. It requires energy regulation, body awareness, and brain integration.
In the phase two, once a client is able to demonstrate a healthy-regulated-connected-relationship and has a trusting bond with their horse, then we will work on sharing a story with their horse. This could be a traumatic memory, negative self-belief, or somatic stress in the body. We process this with EMDR therapy on horseback, if desired. The horse provides bilateral stimulation with their movement but if riding is not good for either the horse or human, we can tell the horse the story while walking or petting them. By this point, the Client and horse may be ready to do mounted work because of the comfort they have making requests and the connection the horse feels to the Client. The mounting process is done with connection and consent from the horse. In phase two, the Client is able to demonstrate a connection to the horse where they can ask the horse to follow them on their own to the mounting block to ride. The Client is also prepared in their nervous system to share about their traumatic memory from the phase one skills learned. I find both of these usually progress at the same rate in phase one as trauma can be linked to relationship vulnerabilities as well.
I have seen Clients do amazing work in this process! I love hearing people say that they didn’t think they would be able to share about their trauma, but they found it was easy to do with the support of their horse. This is such a gentle way to heal that I have not seen overwhelm any client. I have also seen the horses assist in regulating their human partner and help them release the trauma in their body. It is so comforting to be literally carried right through visiting one of the most difficult times of your life. The horses provide the regulation in the moment that allows the client to finally let go of the stress of the past.
Email me today to learn more about starting your journey! Contact@wholeheartedherdcounseling.com
Pictures by Delta Rae Photography not of an actual Client session.
*Research by Jude Cassidy-