WEDNESDAY was World Mental Awareness Day, and today we look at the role horses are playing in helping people to deal with, or recover from, psychological problems.
Humans and horses have maintained a healthy relationship for millennia. But far from being the simple beasts of burden or transportation tools they were in the past, horses today have become key players in the mental rehabilitation of many people around the world.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a method of psychotherapy which has been developed by incorporating horses to facilitate and promote health, wellness and change in people who are not functioning effectively within their daily lives.
EAP is an experiential, hands-on method whereby participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses and then discussing or processing their experiences, thoughts, behaviours and patterns of interaction with the therapist.
How participants handle these experiences or activities provides invaluable information which further assists both therapist and client to get a deeper knowledge and understanding of the initial complaint and explore available options for facilitating change.
The Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Institute of South Africa (EAPISA) was founded by Kim Kidson, a registered senior Clinical Psychologist. EAPISA is a professional body that strives to maintain the strictest ethical and legal standards as required by the constitution of the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
This is achieved by support and training on an ongoing basis to both the horse specialists and the registered psychologists in their respective fields of expertise. This ensures that these professionals are adequately trained to promote an effective and professional service to all clients. This training is professionally regulated by the constitution of EAPISA.
There is an established committee with regional branches in some of the provinces. The committee consists of registered and practising psychologists and horse specialists. The head office is situated at Autumn Leaves Farm in the Hartzenbergfontein Estate, south of Johannesburg.
Equine Assisted Therapy has gone from a buzz phrase in the 1990s to a recognised and successful form of therapy in recent times and there is a growing demand in South Africa, though, according to Kidson, we don’t have as much documented local research yet.
How would anyone interested in this kind of therapy take the necessary action, or make a decision?
Kidson explains: “The first step would be to book a normal consultation with a therapist, during which we will look at the patient’s history and come to an understanding of his or her needs. During this session, or sessions, we may come to a place where we feel that horse assisted therapy is required. Patients are taken to our stables at Hartzenbergfontein near Walkerville.”
Kidson noted that EAP can be costly, because the services of two therapists are employed during treatment but the results are worth it. “I often point out to our patients that EAP costs a bit more, but that results are invariably achieved quicker than with normal therapy.
“We had a man here recently who sat through eight normal therapy sessions, but we couldn’t get to the root of his problem. He was resistant. We took him to the farm and after he’d spent only 15m with a horse in a paddock, we had a breakthrough during his first session!”
Photo per illustration from zarebasystems.com.