EAP is a scientific and systematic form of psychotherapy conducted by a trained psychologist who is assisted by an equine behaviour specialist. The psychologist uses the information gained through the interactions between the client and horse to reach therapeutic goals and alleviate presenting complaints. It is based on an interactional approach to psychotherapy, which posits that all problems in living, symptoms or presenting complaints are related to a person's interactional style, or way of communicating and interacting with others. What's more, interactional psychotherapy brings relief from these problems or symptoms, by facilitating clients to change maladaptive or harmful elements in their interactional style or behaviour.
How does EAP work?
In EAP, there is no riding of the horses. Rather, clients are given a structured task to do with the horse or horses. The basic idea is that how clients approach the task with the horse is how they approach their interactions in life. EAP is based on interactional therapy as it gives a client the chance, in the here and now, to change behaviours that are bringing them undesirable results in their lives. The beauty of the process is 3 fold: Firstly, the environment is completely safe so that clients can feel free to experiment with different behaviours without emotional costs; The EAP arena becomes a “lab for life” where people can experiment with different styles of interacting without fear of judgement and rejection. Secondly, the horses give the clients very accurate feedback that is not distorted by social behaviours (see “Why Horses”). And thirdly, the clients get the benefit of experiential learning.
There is an old saying, “What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do, I understand”. In this why, through experiential learning, clients can tackle problems behaviours in the here and now and challenge irrational beliefs through a corrective experience. Although talking about difficulties and tackling problems on a cognitive level is extremely effective in therapy, this process is accelerated and enhanced by giving the client the experience of change.
Horses are used as co-therapists in EAP as they are extremely sensitive to communication from people. As Leif Halberg wrote, “The horse and human are in constant communication, but only the horse realises it”. This is because horses are essentially a prey species and perceive humans as predators. Thus, they are highly tuned into us to make sure they are safe around us. Horses also have extremely refined senses; they can smell chemical changes in our bodies and galvanic changes on our skin, making it almost impossible to fool them. Clients often report that it feels as if the horse “knows things”. This is simply due to their very skilled communication ability and heightened sensory perception.
Also, horses live in complex hierarchical systems, just like people do, and interpersonal communication is extremely important to them. They are therefore active participants in each and every session. The horse in the EAP session will give the client very clear feedback on what their behaviour is eliciting from their environment. Horses, unlike people, can't lie, and they are not pressurised by social norms to behave in insincere ways. So, what clients receive is pure, undistorted, clear feedback about their behaviour. And, since the horse does not have any spite, malice, or hidden agenda, the client can accept the feedback as being non-threatening and non-judgemental, making it easier to integrate and, if necessary, change. Finally, because horses live in the moment and do not hold onto unfinished business, clients receive real time feedback about current behaviour; even small changes in a session will be picked up and responded to by the horses. Humans can learn how to be excellent communicators from horses in terms of communicating genuinely or congruently, communicating clearly, and communicating in the here and now. Furthermore, the experience of being accepted and understood by these magnificent animals is an amazing therapeutic experience all by itself.
Who can do EAP?
EAP is indicated for children from age three to adolescents, adults of all ages and the elderly. A person does not need any prior experience of horses to be able to benefit from the EAP session and even clients who are afraid of horses can reap all the benefits EAP has to offer. EAP can be used for individuals, families, couples, therapy groups, natural groups, and corporate groups. Boys and girls, men and women alike can benefit from EAP.