Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of animal-assisted psychotherapy involving the client, practitioner, and the horse/s. It is an experiential approach to psychological intervention and personal development, which means that learning, growth, and change occur through experiences had with the therapist and the horses.
The horses, with their unique attributes, act as assistants, supports, and co-facilitators in the therapeutic and learning process. EAP can support clients of all ages meet their therapeutic or personal development goals. EAP is suitable for individuals, couples, groups, or families.
We learn best through experience and in EAP, clients are offered safe experiences with the horses for the purpose of developing awareness, learning life skills, exploring experience in relationship, and building awareness of behavioural, emotional, and thought patterns that no longer serve them well.
Experiences offered with the horses are ground-based and are tailored to the client’s needs and therapeutic or learning goals. There is no riding or mounted experiences offered with the horses therefore, clients do not need to have any prior horse experience. Even clients who are fearful of horses can gain tremendous benefit from this approach.
What it is not:
- EAP is not therapy for horses
It is intervention for humans but with the horses acting as supports, assistants, and co-facilitators in the process
- It is not an intervention to improve horsemanship or riding skills
It is an intervention to address the clients own therapeutic or learning goals with there being no riding involved
- It is not restricted to people with horse experience
It is just as effective for people with little to no horse experience – in fact, the absence of preconceived notions about horses can assist in learning and growth
The EPI Model
Open Paddock uses the Equine Psychotherapy Institute (EPI) Model, which is a unique and comprehensive psychotherapy model with it’s own theory, principles, and practice methodology.
It is an Australian model that is relational, ethical, mindful, trauma-informed, effective, deeply respectful of clients and horses, and is founded on psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and practice. The model draws from gestalt therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and somatic experiencing (somatic trauma practice).
What EAP can help you with
- Regulating emotions (including anxiety, depression, anger, and stress)
- Social skills
- Behavioural problems
- Relational issues
- Building resilience
- Eating disorders
- Impulse control
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Mental health
- Grief and loss
Some common therapeutic and learning goals that EAP can address include:
- Regulating and resourcing clients
- Offering safe experiences in relationship
- Increase client awareness
- Increase awareness of patterns that no longer serve the client well
- Experiment with, develop, and rehearse new ways of being and behaving
- Become emotionally connected
- Learn life skills
- For youth, support them to play, express, learn, develop mastery, form relationships, build social skills, increase autonomy, develop self-responsibility, increase emotional intelligence, and teach them how to soothe and regulate their own emotions.
What you can expect in the session
What to expect depends on a number of factors including the purpose of the session (e.g., therapeutic or educational), whether it is individual or group-based, the stage the intervention is at, and what issues or themes have arisen.
You can however expect some of the following:
- Sessions take place in a room, paddock, or round yard (often a combination of these in each session)
- You will be provided with safety guidelines regarding the horses and how to keep yourself and the horses safe
- You will be treated with compassion and respect
- You will be invited to engage in experiences with the horses targeted towards your therapeutic or learning goals
- For groups: In a group session you may be required to participate and share your experiences and engage in activities with other group members and the horses.
- For individuals: There will be a focus in the initial session on discussing your individual circumstances, difficulties, and goals and a plan for moving forward will be developed.
- Prior to your first session you may be required to complete confidentiality and indemnity forms
- Any information disclosed in sessions, case notes, or psychological tests will be kept confidential. If there is any need to disclose your personal information, you will be asked for permission first and will be required to sign a release of information form.
- You may be asked to complete psychological assessment forms to establish a starting point from which to work and track progress over time.
- You are in control over what you share – you will never be made to share something you do not feel willing or able to share