Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) & Learning (EAL)
EAP is the professional field in which horses are used as a tool for emotional growth and learning. EAP is a collaborative effort between a qualified counsellor and a horse professional. Due to its intensity and effectiveness it is sometimes considered a 'short term' or 'brief' approach.
EAP is 'experiential' in nature. This means that the participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviours and patterns.
The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship, in fact 100% of EAP takes place on the ground.The focus of EAP involves the use of activities involving the horses that requires the client or group to apply certain skills. Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem-solving, leadership and taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence and attitude are several examples of the tools utilised and developed in EAP.
EAP is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, families and groups. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioural issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, abuse issues, anxiety and low moods, relationship problems and communication needs.
Horses are large and powerful, which creates a natural opportunity for some people to overcome fear and develop confidence. This size and power can naturally intimidate many people. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.
Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles within their herds, they would rather be with their peers and they have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse, does not necessarily work with another. At times they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun.
In other words, horses provide a vast opportunity for metaphorical learning. Using metaphors in discussion, or activity, is an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups.
Most importantly horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Many people complain, “The horse is stubborn", or "the horse doesn’t like me”, the lesson to be learnt is that if they changed themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.
EAP in the Press
Can horses help humans beat anxiety? Angela experiences Equine Assisted Psychotherapy for the first time. She wants to overcome her anxiety, from a local BBC story about EAP in action:
7 April 2012: The Daily Mail "Meet the thoroughbred therapists" by Liz Jones - Story on SIH Equine
25 February 2012: The Guardian "Not just horsing around...psychologists put their faith in equine therapies" by Tracy McVeigh in the UK
25 February 2012: The Guardian "Horse therapy saved me from a very dark place: Tina Robertson, 43, who lives near Newcastle, had three sessions of equine-assisted therapy with an Eagala-trained team" by Tracy McVeigh in the UK
11 June 2011: London Telegraph Magazine "Healing Hooves: Troubled children from South Africa's notorious townships are being treated with equine therapy" by Charlie Norton, photographs by Giulio Di Sturco - Story on Montrose Equine Assisted Solutions
Video: January 2004 BBC Scotland: The Landward Programme, 6 minutes
Video: May 2008 BBC2's 'Am I Normal?' Documentary, 5 minutes. Interview by Dr. Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist and TV personality, with EAGALA Certified practitioner Mike Delaney. Featuring a success story with Teresa, an addictions client.