Choosing an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Team
Updated: May 22
Here are some simple guidelines to follow when making the decision to choose an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Equine Assisted Learning (EAP/EAL) Program:
Know what your desired outcome is: There are many ways that horses are used therapeutically. Which type of service will dictate what program you should work with:
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Equine Assisted Learning: This modality occurs with the horse(s) at liberty in an arena, no riding, has a team of a licensed Mental Health professional and Equine Specialist certified by the Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association (EAGALA) or the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Int’l). Services are geared towards providing change and growth through equine interactions.
Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy: Services can include a variety of equine modalities, including non-mounted services, Rhythmic Riding, Natural Horsemanship, and incorporating EMDR. All services are required to be provided by a licensed therapist who is highly trained in Trauma-Focused services. The Equine Specialist must understand trauma, including the biological and psychological impact it may have on a client and their specialized needs in horse selection.
Therapeutic Riding: A Therapeutic Riding Instructor is certified through PATH Int’l to provide riding to persons with disabilities and mental health issues that will help with self esteem, coordination and pride. PATH Int’l also certifies other specialties, such as vaulting and therapeutic driving.
Hippotherapy: A licensed Occupational Therapist (OT), Speech Therapist (ST) or Physical Therapist (PT) provides specialized services on the back of a horse for clients with physical disabilities, speech issues or recovering from injury. Certified through the American Hippotherapy Association.
Therapeutic Horsemanship: Services include grooming, feeding, walking, bathing and other basic horsemanship skills. These services can be provided as therapy by an EAP/EAL team or through a non-clinical specialist for the purpose of teaching or building self-esteem.
Does the EAP/EAL Team have experience with the issue you are struggling with? The more experience a Team has in addressing a specific issue or concern, the more expertise they have developed to facilitate change.
Does the EAP/EAL Team adhere to ethical principles? Therapists are bound to follow ethical guidelines designed to ensure that clients receive supportive care that does no harm. These principles include having no other outside relationship between the client and therapist, maintaining healthy boundaries and ensuring that confidentiality is maintained. Records are stored in a secure, locked area, and there are guidelines to verbal and social media interactions. Therapists may incorporate multiple ethical guidelines, including EAGALA, licensure board and field of specialty. The Equine Specialist also follows the EAGALA or PATH Int’l code of ethics to ensure client safety and confidentiality. Always request copies of the EAP/EAL Team’s current licensure and certification.
Is the therapist licensed? Licensure ensures that the counselor has completed a graduate or post-graduate program in counseling, psychology, social work, or marriage & family therapy. Additionally, the therapist has completed approximately 2,000 hours of supervision after completion of their degree program and passed an extensive licensure test.
Are horses safe? The Equine Specialist has over 5 years of horse experience before joining an EAP/EAL Team. Their job is to choose which horse(s) the client will work with each session and ensure the safety of the horse, Team and client throughout the session. The Equine Specialist reviews the current issues the client is working on, the horse and client’s mood, and other safety considerations.
Why horses? Horses are prey animals and finely tuned to their environment. They are able to detect a person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions, and provide instant feedback though movement, change and reactions. The horses can provide the client with a microcosm into what is happening in their world. Clients can use the opportunity to play out old behaviors or try on new ways of interacting and see how those patterns would work in their everyday life.
Choosing the Team for you: When initially meeting with the EAP/EAL Team, do they convey a sense of safety, security and the ability to hear you empathetically? It is important that clients feel both physically safe and emotionally safe in order for authentic change to occur. The setting should be as confidential as possible, with no activity happening nearby. Guardians, spouses, and on-lookers must be discouraged from viewing the session. The horses should also appear healthy and in the most natural setting possible to ensure their ability to genuinely interact with clients. A closed-herd (no outside horses) that has a hierarchy and pecking order allows clients to see real-world interactions and systems that may be reflected in their own experiences.
Marla Berger is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Registered Art Therapist, Advanced Certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy & Learning through EAGALA, and a Therapeutic Riding Instructor certified by PATH International. She is the EAGALA Networking Coordinator for Southeast Florida. 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 hold the highest individual credential offered by EAGALA. They 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.
Berger Counseling Services provides EAP/EAL services specializing in grief & loss, trauma, addiction and adoption. For more information on finding a local referral for equine services, contact Marla at:561-866-3056, Marla@BergerCounselingServices.com.
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