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Girl and horse
by Kate McLaughlin

What Are The Benefits of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of therapy that involves spending the session in the company of one or more horses. As well as the therapist guiding the session, there will also be an accompanying horse handler to pay attention to the animals, making sure that the session is completely safe and structured for everybody involved. One misconception that people often have about EAP is that it involves riding the horses, or requires some familiarity with how to handle them. Actually, anybody of any age can find it easy and helpful to introduce working with horses into their therapeutic programme, and it can be performed 1:1 or in groups. But what are the benefits of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy?

What’s particularly interesting and valuable about EAP compared to other forms of therapy is how useful it can be for developing emotional regulation skills. If somebody is coming into a session while carrying some unresolved emotional distress with them, EAP can be really impactful for helping to relieve it. One of the reasons for this is that horses are very empathic creatures. All horses have a powerful herd instinct. They can very easily pick up on the anxiety or distress of other creatures around them, including humans.  

They’re also naturally inclined to try to help soothe those worries, and will encourage people around them to feel settled and safe together. We’ve heard it said quite often that in many ways, it can be easier to talk to a horse about your worrisome thoughts and feelings than it is to talk to a human. A big reason for this is that a horse isn’t going to judge you based upon why you say in the same ways you could be worried a person might. 

Besides this, there are other ways that working therapeutically with horses can help people -particularly young or excitable children- to feel emotionally grounded. Besides being a naturally great way to help offload stress and worries, that emotional awareness also makes horses very prone to becoming wary and skittish when they can feel somebody nearby is being very energetic. Because of this, you need to be able to stay reasonably calm to engage with them at all. In practice, this means that being around horses in a structured, therapeutic environment, inherently both encourages emotional regulation and helps to support it when it’s difficult.  

Equine Psychotherapy Horses at JSA Psychotherapy

This sort of regulation and grounding is a really important foundation skill. On way of thinking about it could be as the trunk of a tree, with all of the other social and learning skills branching out of it. After all, if you struggle keeping yourself calm and grounded, then you’ll also struggle to think straight or get on well with other people. Being able to keep yourself feeling safe and calm is a complicated skill which can take time and patience to get used to. For some people who haven’t had many good chances to practice that, the best place to try is in an emotionally safe environment. Horses are perfect for providing that opportunity.  

Because of this, therapeutic work with horses can make a huge difference in the lives of children and young people, because they are early on this particular developmental window, where practicing emotional regulation can make all the difference on the rest of the life skills they are learning. For this reason, we usually like to run group sessions of EAP for children in school or activity groups to try together. Besides being more cost-effective to arrange, having the horse there is just as beneficial for all people involved. However, being able to engage with EAP in a group does also bring its own benefits.  

For example, those crucial social skills of emotional awareness mentioned above are necessarily put into play there among other humans as well. Also, when you develop those skills with same age peers, it’s easier then to take them away to similar environments without the horse. Put simply, learning to keep yourself calm and grounded enough that a horse will feel comfortable around you while you’re in a group with your classmates teaches you how to do the same thing for other reasons in a similarly busy social space. 

There are many benefits of equine assisted psychotherapy that can help young people. If you are curious to learn more about EAP and our other types of clinical psychotherapy, have a question for us, or would like to get in touch to procure our services, please see our dedicated EAP page, contact us on 01282686345 or at office@jsapsychotherapy.com.

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