Becoming trained in Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning....

Minds-n-Motion: Pferdeunterstützte/Equine Assisted Trauma Therapie·Thursday, September 22, 2016

A few months ago I was approached by a person from out of country who had attended “equine assisted psychotherapy” with a person certified by one of the major leading organizations. This person was desperate: during the course of a “personal growth seminar”, he had become aware of some things in his past. During the seminar, he was encouraged to explore this issue deeper, by focusing on the metaphors he had used during the activity. He said that he has lost “time” during this activity and “has not felt right” since then. The experience made him aware of things he had long forgotten. He came to ask for help as we specialize in Traumatherapy. He said that the people who conducted this workshop did not help, but rather told him to “trust the process” and “trust the horses” and eventually were oblivious to the abyss he had fallen into.
It is amazing when one reads the papers, public posts on social media, watches TV or listens to the radio these days: what just a decade ago seemed to be “something for weirdos and horse lovers” is getting more and more public attention and - most of all - accreditation! Equine Assisted Therapy, Equine Assisted Interventions, Equine Assisted Learning, Equine Assisted Coaching, Equine Assisted Personal Development - you name it, working with horses in a therapeutic setting is seemingly everywhere.
It is that idea, working with horses, along with the many things we attribute to them, that draws many of us in, motivates us to invest, believe, learn and work for more. Horses have been part of our history for thousands of years. In those years, myths, religious beliefs, actual experiences and projections have all been associated with and have been put on horses.
There have been more and more certifying organizations appearing on the market. Claims are being made, effects are being posted, loyalties expressed, models and methods advocated for. Many who share a love for horses, who have been aware of the transformation that can take place through the human-equine interaction, are only too happy to finally find somebody who has developed a way to market and publicize these effects. There are a lot of horse lovers all over the world! By developing a model or method that promises not only results but also the backing of a renowned organization, a huge market has opened up (for them). People are only too eager to invest into something they have searched for a long time. People want to learn! There is a method? A new model? Something that is being used all over the world? With big companies interested in it? What motivates most is not only their love for horses, but also their basic need to earn a living. Because of course most who work with horses know the expenses that go along with them, and more often than not the little money one gets in return.
Many of these models and methods claim a team approach. That concept offers another bonus to those interested in learning and becoming certified: finally, horse people are getting recognition, and who does not want to be part of a large team, supporting each other, giving to each other, even if only the idea of getting something back in return helps one believe that there is greater strength in numbers? In a world that seems to be getting more and more unpredictable, filled with terror attacks, trauma and suspicion, the ideal of coming together and collaborating fills many with hopes of a better place, grounded by the horses who allegedly are part of the team.
20 years ago, it was (seemingly) easy to pick the “right” organization: there were only two large ones in the USA: EAGALA and PATH. The non-riders and the riders.
As the years passed, confusion started: Epona, Animal Assisted Therapy, OK Corral Series, The National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy, HEAL, ... - the list of certifying organizations goes on and there are too many to list here (nor are the ones listed or excluded in any specific order). All certifying agencies claim basically the same - yet have many differences: the role of the horse - the role of the psychotherapist - no psychotherapist but coach or counselor instead - no riding - some riding - no activities - some activities that due to a law suit needed to be taken out and led to so-called new breakthrough insights and learning - some so-called new approaches taken from proven psychotherapeutic and coaching approaches integrated under a new label - nowadays, it is a confusing world out there for a person wanting to get certified in equine assisted work.
A topic closely associated with these organizations has also gained attention: Scope of expertise. When working in a team consisting of an Equine Specialist and a Mental Health Specialist (and at least one horse!), “scope of expertise” means that both (human) team members know their profession: either equine biology and equine behaviors, or mental health issues. Most good organizations have put this in their teaching guidelines and claim to check core prerequisites before certifying trainees in their approach. Because how can you certify people in anything new unless you ensure that the proper core knowledge is there beforehand?
A certifying agency holds the responsibility of setting and ensuring standards. And this is where I encourage anybody who is interested in wanting to be certified by any organization or learn from anybody out there to check carefully:

  • Does the organization you choose to learn from check core requirements before teaching you their skills and then issuing you a certification?
  • What does the curriculum look like? Are you being taught techniques, skills, with sufficient theoretical knowledge to where teachings meet educational standards that qualify for a “certification”?
  • What is the time frame in which you are being taught? Most of the time, the acquisition of new skills requires time. How long is the certification process? Is that process divided into steps? Are those steps clear? Are you being tested on the knowledge you acquired? Are you being given feedback on effectively implementing these skills into your core knowledge to where you can learn from your mistakes? How much theoretical knowledge are you being provided to where you understand the underlying structure of the teachings? Are you being directly supervised in your work - do you have to supply proof of gained experience in your new field?
  • How does the organization account for the differences in participants with varying (educational) backgrounds? Are there varying degrees of teachings or is everybody just being treated the same? (going back to making sure that core knowledge is present and checked beforehand)
  • Effective learning takes place in small numbers. How many participants are attending certifying trainings? How is maximum learning (best value for your money) insured, how individuality addressed?
  • If claims of international recognition are made - how are core requirements of those countries being met or implemented? How are cultural issues accounted for? How is the organization represented in those countries, ensuring ethics and the proclaimed set of standards?
  • How is the work with different clientele and populations accounted for and taught? Are there different protocols? We all know there is not one thing in this world that works for everybody.
  • Last but not least: as equine assisted work entails working with horses - living, sentient beings (which draws many to these certification courses in the first place): how are the horses, allegedly team members in most popular approaches - being accommodated and how is their physical and emotional safety ensured? What is the organization’s outlook on their equine team members? Their abilities, their functions, their role? How is that implemented in their trainings and do the trainings really reflect this?

I often get asked which organization I recommend. I can no longer provide an adequate answer to this questions. What I can do is recommend for anybody interested in learning more about this very effective and powerful way of working with human beings in need to do your homework well on the questions I raised above. Good certifying organizations will not fail a thorough research, and their outward appearance will match their teachings, their trainings, and their recommendations.
As far as the client who came to us, we were able to facilitate a process that fit his needs, ensuring emotional and physical safety that helped him overcome some of his past traumatic experiences.