Horses Counseling Humans

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.
— Winston Churchill

"Equine psychotherapy? You counsel horses??"

     This is the most common reaction when I mention the new mode of therapy I am venturing into with my practice. Although I may have met a horse or two that could use some good therapy, it is actually a form of experiential, solution focused psychotherapy that involves interactions between clients and horses.

     Simply being around horses regulates our heart rate, changes brainwave patterns, and helps us become focused and centered. But it is so much more than a few physiological effects.

     Among the vast range of issues that can benefit are: boundary setting, identifying feelings and distorted thinking, fears, communication and trust, confidence, relationships, grief, anger.

     To create an effective treatment, it starts with a mental health professional and an equine specialist. Together, they team up with the horses (the "real" therapists) and coordinate activities in which the client interacts with the horses.

     Horses are remarkably similar to people in the sense that their herds are very much like our family dynamics. Right away, the person is incorporated into the herd and has to decide how they want to "be" in this environment where things are authentic and not denied or hidden.

     It is a lot easier to blame others or remain unaware of our issues and struggles when we are having a conversation with our spouse, therapist, etc. But horses have a unique ability to sense emotions and are authentic in how they react. Through this (and a little guidance from the human therapists) horses can help us to recognize our conscious and unconscious ways of interacting with others.

     Do not let that all scare you off though! The truth is that their core is one of honesty, curiosity, no judgment, straightforwardness, and empathetic attunement. All of which come together perfectly to provide us with a safe place to lay down our burdens and still be wholly accepted.

Caroline Atkinson, MA, LPC is a licensed counselor at the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call our front desk at 907.452.3600!

This article was featured in Alaska Center for Natural Medicine's Summer 2016 Health Report. To access the entire newsletter archive, click here