HomeEquine Facilitated Therapy - Mind Switch Therapies
In equine facilitated therapy sessions we work with small groups or individuals and no experience with horses is required.
A true story about how horses helped one of my clients suffering with PTSD
One day working with a PTSD client the session felt a little stuck and wasn’t flowing as comfortably as I would have liked so I said “hey let’s go outside, get some fresh air and meet the horses”. The transformation was almost immediate, his energy dropped and calm ensued.
The same client kept coming back to spend time with the horses. He quickly learned to understand his energy levels as the horses would run away if they were too high. When he lowered his energy levels the horses would come to him.
The presence and physical contact with the horses seemed to give him a good feeling and he made some very special relationships with certain members of the herd.
I would sometimes find him with his head in his hands and say “what’s up” he would reply “ they all ran away from me”. Interesting, I then asked him “why do you think that might be”?
He would analyse his behaviour and with gentle guidance, take a few deep breaths, ground himself and lower his energy levels. Doesn’t sound much really does it? Actually it was a major breakthrough which helped him to recognise his energy levels (which most PTSD sufferers don’t). In recognising that he learned to adjust those levels in himself because he wanted to connect with the horses so discovered the ability to regulate his breathing thus reducing his energy levels in order to communicate more easily. The change in this person was astounding.
Horses are prey animals and have a massive in built fight, flight or freeze response, hence they can spook at seemingly silly things. If approached with high energy and a busy mind they will often take flight as this poses a possible threat to them. Whether the threat is real or imaginary the outcome is the same and the flight mechanism is triggered which is exactly what happens in humans having a panic attack.
The flight/fear response happens quickly as horses do not have a highly developed cognitive/analytical mind which is the part of the mind in humans that allows us to assess, understand and rationalise the fear we might be feeling. All of this happens very quickly, if the fear/threat feeling is aroused, real or imaginary then the brain sends out hormones and triggers a part of the brain known as the amygdala which creates the fight or flight response. For humans the analytical mind can slow this process down but a horse cannot do this. If it detects danger the amygdala is immediately triggered and the flight response kicks in.
This is what happens in panic attacks, phobias and fears.
The fear/feeling presents, hormones rush in and the amygdala is wide open on full alert ready to fight, flight or freeze . Eventually this calms down but the result is exhaustion due to the rush of adrenaline and various chemicals flooding the body. Very debilitating. With PTSD the amygdals does not fully close.
How can horses help in therapy?
In equine facilitated therapy sessions we work with small groups or individuals.
Horses have an uncanny knack of mirroring peoples emotions.
Horses do not have verbal communication so everything is about body language and use of energy levels.
Body language is vital to our communication whether it be with animals or humans.
It is stated that only 7% of our communication is conveyed through words, 38% is tone of voice and 55% is body language.
In EFL sessions we learn a lot about body language, understanding, controlling our energy levels and setting healthy boundaries. All of these things help us to understand ourselves and others better enabling us to communicate more fluently.
Just being with horses can create a feeling of calm, reduce anxiety and promote confidence and self esteem. They do not judge but simply accept people for who they are.
They help us to give and receive trust. You have to win their trust in order for them to work with you. It also helps us to become a capable , trustworthy leader to overcome obstacles and repeating patterns of behaviour.
EFL will help with confidence issues, boundaries, goal setting, overcoming obstacles in life, communication skills, body language, understanding and controlling energy levels in daily life, low self esteem, fears, learning to trust and lead. The list goes on and on.
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