What is EAP and EAL?
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for mental and behavioral health therapy and personal development. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, it is considered a short-term, or “brief” approach.
EAP is experiential in nature. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. This approach has been compared to the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses, dynamic and powerful living beings.
Not all programs or individuals who use horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed (in the U.S.) and properly qualified mental health professionals need to be involved. The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities involving the horses which will require the client or group to apply certain skills. Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem-solving, leadership, work, taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence, and attitude are several examples of the tools utilized and developed by EAP.
EAP is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, famlies, and groups. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.
Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is similar to EAP but where the focus is on learning or educational goals. EAL still involves the team of mental health professional and horse professional working with the clients and horses. It is not psychotherapy and generally is viewed as a learning experience. It uses experiential communication, teambuilding and persona growth experiences. Can be offered to individuals, groups, families, agencies and corporations. Generally, it is offered to anyone that includes school group activities, church, and corporate group activities/retreats. Additional supports can participate to co facilitate as well that can include, educators, pastors and job support specialists.
Participants work on activities with horses that allow them to explore their own problem-solving strategies, their decision making styles, and the way in which they approach new situations. They are given an opportunity to work through the issues that stand in the way of achieving the outcomes. The discovering gained in the experience are immediately transferred to other situations and circumstances in life. Participants report improvements, in relationships with others, self-confidence, problem resolution, goal setting and independent decision making.
The format is directed by a treatment plan and Interpretations and techniques incorporate and enhance those of traditional evidence-based approaches.
Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instruction, and caring for horses naturally affects the people involved in a positive manner.
Horses naturally provide benefits to humans in their midst, such as: work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication, and healthy relationships. The use of horses is growing and gaining popularity with the rise of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning.
We are often asked, “Why horses? Why not other animals?”
Naturally intimidating to many, horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.
Like humans, horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods; an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning, an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups. Horses require us to work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the “easy way” are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable lesson in all aspects of life. Most importantly, horses mirror human body language. Many complain, “This horse is stubborn. That horse doesn’t like me,” etc. The lesson is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.