Have you ever wondered what life would be like without barriers, fears and the past intruding? Imagine your relationships filled with easy communication, healthy boundaries and less stress. You want what's best for yourself and your family. With the horses and us as partners, we can help you walk towards your new you. Activities with the horse focuses on verbal and non-verbal communication, problem solving, assertiveness and healthy relationships. Individuals and families can focus on building healthy communication styles, promoting growth and change, which benefits both the individuals and the group as a whole.
Equine Assisted Services breaks down into three types of services - Therapy, Horsemanship & Learning. Each service is powerful and targeted to help us move quickly through our journey to growth. At Berger Counseling Services, we work with each client to determine what technique and model would be the best fit for their unique goals and situation.
Equine Assisted Services - Therapy
At Berger Counseling Services, we offer two models of therapy services integrating the horses. Our clinicians are trained in both the Eagala (Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association) and Natural Lifemanship (Trauma Focused-Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) Model. Each required many years of training, supervision and certification. This type of service is most often referred to as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Services occur on the ground with the horse free to move around. When we interact with the horses at liberty, they allow us to see metaphor, patterns and relationship play out in front of our eyes. As we learn new skills and techniques on building healthy relationships and communication styles, we can try them out with the horses. We can see, in real time, whether these new skills will work for us in the real world.
We know that explaining Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is hard, so we are going to share a story from our founder, Marla Berger...
"A few years ago I was attending a training in NY on the Eagala Model. During one of the modules, they asked for a volunteer to work on a professional goal. At the time I was working on building Berger Counseling Services but struggling with work/life balance. I volunteered and explained my goals to the Team. They asked me to create a representation of work/life balance and invite an equine into the space. I created a mandala using pool noodles and hula hoops to represent my well-balanced life with the star on the inside, while juggling the "hoops" that life throws at you. When it came time to pick an equine, there were two options available. Both horses were a breed called Norwegian Fjord, which are all identical - golden body, mane is striped white, black, white. An adorable breed. So my choice was between two identical horses. One was a little scruffy and stood away from us, while the other was a handsome, striking with a Fabio-like forelock. Of course I picked him! Instantly I labeled him "Big Sexy." I was determined to create my dream work/life balance with Big Sexy. As I walked over to him, he turned and stood right next to the door leading out of the arena. He then proceeded to scrap his teeth down the door - like he just could not wait to get out of there. Needless to say, I persevered. I just knew that he was the key to my success. After several minutes of frustration, I gave up and turned to the little, scruffy mare. She just looked so, well, plain Jane. Boring. But I didn't feel like I had any choice since Big Sexy wanted nothing to do with me. So I walked up to her, put my hand on her cheek...and she walked, step by step, in sync with me. It was a profound, beautiful moment of clarity. While I could keep chasing the impossible dream of bigger, better, faster, I would just wind up frustrated, tearing down the door to get out. Or I could try to build a life that was workable, manageable and maybe, just right for me. That was the genesis of building Berger Counseling Services to be a small, niche practice. We might not be perfect for everyone, but whoever we work with is the right fit."
As you can tell, working with the horses can be powerful beyond measure. The activity given to Marla was directive, the Team provided a task to complete. Other times, the focus is on self discovery, which may be non-directive. To learn more about equine assisted psychotherapy and Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, check out our blog on Experiential Therapies Explained, our videos or schedule a meet and greet.
Equine Assisted Services - Horsemanship
Horsemanship refers to the care and stewardship of equines - which includes, horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. We bet you thought a pony was just a small horse! Learning the differences between equines, how to care for, groom and handle them is an essential skill of horsemanship. We incorporate this model for clients who made need to learn about self care, social skills and task sequencing. We work side by side with our clients to decode how to figure out multi-step tasks, breaking them down into manageable parts. This builds on a bigger goal of understanding how to create and sequence chores, homework or routines. Working with the horses at Berger Counseling Services, we can scaffold clients towards a better understanding of relationship and communication skills.
Another aspect of horsemanship involves supporting families to enhance their communication style. We may give one member of the family a task to explain, such as mucking a stall. That person would be responsible for sharing the information with the rest of the family. The proof of their ability to communicate well, set limits and boundaries will be born out quickly...i.e., is the stall clean? It might seem a bit unorthodox to ask a family to clean a stall, but hear us out.
Picture this family, kids are a bit out of control, they know that if they just wait their parents out, there will be no consequences for their misbehavior. The parents are nice, smart people, who believe that they will be able to reason their children into good behavior. The parents are asked to explain step by step how to muck a stall, starting with getting the supplies, a wheelbarrow and muck rake. Can you picture these parents giving a short, sweet explanation? We bet not. In fact, we bet that the explanation they would give might include the origins of the wheelbarrow in approximately 200 AD by Chinese soldiers in the armies of Chuko Liang, how the word muck was derived from an Old Norse myki meaning ‘dung,’ and on and on. All the while the kids are probably hanging from the rafters by now!
By the end of services, our families are able to use the skills we help foster through experiential activities such as grooming, mucking and leading our horses. We can tell that a family has "got it" when they are able to successfully share and communicate together during session in clear, relatable expressions of thoughts and emotions. Success is a happy, healthy family system who interact as a team with goals, purpose and accountability for actions.
Equine Assisted Services - Learning
Equine assisted services are powerful and we can benefit tremendously from seeing our patterns, communication styles and metaphors play out with the horses. But sometimes we want clarity without needing therapy. That's where Equine Assisted Learning comes in. Team-building, empowerment training and self-care are ways to gain enlightenment without the need for on-going therapy. Our Team acts as a conduit to create a safe, open space for people to come together to learn about themselves. The Team may provide a few brief comments to stimulate thought, but the deep dive of therapy talk is notably absent.
Berger Counseling Services hosts a monthly networking and equine assisted learning demonstration to help explain the power and insight working alongside horses can have on us. Although currently on hold due to COVID-19, the Breakfast At The Ranch series is a great way to be introduced to the concept of horses being agents of growth. Check out our events page to see when the next live demonstration will occur.
While we have so many stories from all the years of team-building, family strengthening camps, networking events and professional development, Marla would like to share another story about her experience during and equine assisted learning activity.
"Each time I step into the arena as a participant I am blown away with the power that equine assisted learning has to uncover, reveal and expand on metaphor. While I was at Tara Farm with HERD Foundation during a monthly Breakfast At The Ranch, I got to participate in the activity instead of lead. We were asked by our Team to create our professional path forward. My teammates and myself also included some hurdles on the way (hula hoops). I picked the shovel and boot to represent digging deep to complete my goals and kicking butt. Another participant noticed that both my objects had handles. Immediately I was struck with my desire to 'have a handle on things' and did not let those go for the rest of the session! In the process of inviting our new "clients" into our professionals goals, I integrated my handle as a way to help our client move forward. Except our client got stuck. No forward movement or backward. Just stuck standing still at the start of our professionals hurdles. The amount of energy needed for us to motivate and unstick our client was WAY more that I anticipated. Once our client got going, the path was super clear and fast. So fast that we forgot to stay in the joy of completing an activity and let our client wander off without truly experiencing that moment of "ahhhhhhh" ad "aha!" that comes after a goal has been overcome. It resonated deeply with me - how much time and energy I spend to start a task and how quickly I move through it without appreciating the win, the finale, the joy of completion. What really sealed the metaphor for me was my final action. I wanted to recreate my hurdle, kicking butt and digging deep. So I dug the little plastic shovel into the sand and BROKE it in half! My desire for a grand finale got the best of me and I had to take a moment to remember that a thing is still done, complete and finished even when we don't post, tweet or tag it. I laughed a lot at myself that day."
We can hear you thinking "Ok great, lots of good information...but how do I know what service are right for me?
Not to worry! At Berger Counseling Services, we offer a wide range of services to fit the individual needs of our clients. As part of our assessment and treatment planning, we will determine which modality would best serve your needs.
Marla is a life-long horse lover and has been providing equine assisted services since 2001. She is PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, Natural Lifemanship Trained and an Eagala Advanced Certified Professional, the highest individual professional credential offered by Eagala.
With 4,500 members in 50 nations, Eagala Advanced Certified Professionals help people change their lives by practicing The Eagala Model: The Global Standard for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Personal Development. Eagala Advanced Certified Professionals complete an advanced rigorous training program, commit to evidence-based client solutions, utilize an exclusive team approach and operate with a strong code of ethics. These experiential therapies utilize our innate capacity to solve our own problems and desire to change our lives for the better.
Wendy is Eagala Certified Professional, holds her Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) certification with the PATH International and Natural Lifemanship Trained.