The Family. We are a strange little band of characters trudging through life, sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of the house, inflicting pain and kissing it to heal in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together in the first place. Insanity... yet very irreplaceable. ~ Erma Bombeck

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
for Families

Did you ever think that the missing piece to improving...Conflict Resolution, Effective Communication, Problem Solving may just be...
A Horse!

Families share many things . . . from toothpaste and the TV remote to how you spend your time, money, and energy - but do you share the same vision of the future? Many times we don't even realize we're working at cross-purposes, sabotaging each other's decisions and dreams. A healthy and successful team plans, works together, and ultimately reaches individual and collective goals. A greater understanding of family "team-ness" starts with trust and leads to individual accountability, active problem-solving, good listening skills, and really working together.

photo courtesy of Teaming for SuccessPeople who participate in family therapy sessions learn more about themselves and about how their family functions. Family therapy can also be useful before problems begin. Some families seek this type of therapy when they anticipate a major change in their lives. Family therapy has been used successfully to treat many different types of families in many different situations, including those in which:

  • The parents have conflict within their relationship
  • A child has behavior or school problems
  • Children or teens have problems getting along with each other
  • One family member has a long-term (chronic) mental illness, such as an alcohol use problem or severe depression
  • Social skills are lacking for parents, children, or both
  • One or more members feels they are not heard or listened to when trying to express concerns or needs
  • Failed communication has resulted in a breakdown of the family unit
  • Problems and conflicts are not finding resolution, but rather are escalating
Developing such awareness is part of what equine facilitated experiential learning is about, where a person can become conscious of fear, a person is then empowered towards making healthy behavior choices ~ Barbara Rector, Co-founder
Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA)

photo courtesy of Teaming for Success
Equine Assisted Therapy is now practiced in most countries in the world and has seen a 233% growth rate since 2006. Research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and healing. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed mental health professional, an equine specialist, and the horses working with the family to address desired outcome and treatment goals. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, EAP is considered a short-term or a "brief" approach. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is experiential in nature. This means that members of the family learn about themselves and their family unit by engaging in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) metaphors, feelings, behaviors and patterns within their own context.

Not all programs for families utilize horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed clinical professionals need to be involved for it to be considered "psychotherapy". The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities/exercises involving the horses which will require families to explore and apply certain skills.

Horses do make that extra difference. In fact, we consider them to be a bit of a "secret weapon" in helping us identify core issues that might go unnoticed in traditional therapeutic modality which is largely focused on what is spoken (talk therapy). Horses respond to subtleties in your body language, and it is the focus on the non-verbals that can be particularly revealing. For example, clients may verbalize a desire or feeling and yet their body language may communicate something entirely different. In the Western culture, the emphasis is placed mostly on what is said. However what is even more revealing is the added layer of body language and discovering the discrepancies between what we say with our mouth and what is said through our body.

Spring Reins of Hope has created specific exercises with the horses to help families:

    photo courtesy of Teaming for Success
  • Learn about family system functions in general and, in particular, how their own family unit is functioning
  • Help individuals shift their rigid perceptions and change habitual negative patterns of interaction
  • Focus less on the member who has been identified as ill and focus more on the family as a whole
  • Assists in identifying conflicts and anxieties and find appropriate solutions for conflict resolution
  • Strengthens all family members so they can work on their problems together
  • Teaches new and different ways to handle conflicts and changes within the family
  • Become aware of subtle dynamics that may be the source of persistent tensions, conflicts or power struggles
  • Address and manage the realities and problems of blended families
  • Improve parenting skills to help child or teen with conduct and behavioral problems
  • Adjust to major life transitions such as separation, divorce, and loss
  • Help children express feelings and parents develop empathic behavior

Treatment options offered at Spring Reins of Hope can often be relatively short-term but is extended if in the best interest of the family unit. Generally treatment plans range from four to eight weeks. EAP treatment can stand alone or as an adjunct to ongoing mental health treatment in collaboration with another primary therapist. All EAP sessions require a pre-screening evaluation without the horses, which is scheduled by appointment. This evaluation allows us to discuss the needs of the family and to understand desired treatment goals before entering the arena.

Peace in society, depends on peace in the family ~ Augustine
Smile at each other, smile at your husband, smile at your wife, smile at your children, smile at each other. This will help you grow up in greater love for each other. ~ Mother Theresa

Resources on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy