Unicorn Assisted Therapy

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Or why we work with HORSES in EAP…

*Trigger warning – to be read with personal and professional self-distance*

Unicorn Unlimited is offering Unicorn Assisted Therapy (UAT) to everybody who wants to be healed. Come and meet our unicorns, and we promise you some magical and unforgettable moments. They will find what is broken in you and mend it. This they do by being in resonance with our ancestors, their ancestors, the earth, the universe, all spirits and all shamanic power that is "out there", and everything else magical and unexplainable. They will also send heart waves your way and cohere your energy, which is another healing power they will radiate towards you. It will make you and the unicorns vibrate at the same cosmic frequency. 

The unicorns always know what you need and will give it to you. These experiences will forever change you and until eternity. This is in fact the reason why unicorns were put on this earth – to heal and save humanity.

Therefor therapist, psychologists, or any other mental health professionals are not needed in this work, because it is the unicorns that heal you and guide you. But there will be humans present to make sure you connect with a unicorn. The connection is essential from the beginning – so you learn what methods there is to connect, because unfortunately you can not bring the unicorns with you home, but you will learn the unicorn connection model. You can also buy the book, the magic accessories and if you want to you can easily become a UAT provider yourself, or even a trainer in UAT, in this way, you guarantee you will always be connected, and that you can assist all other beings in how to connect.

Come and join us for a weekend and experience and learn it all – and be healed from your feet and up. No words are needed, you can leave your mind at home, this is a bottom up all magical modality which will reset all your systems and create a perfect balance in you.

Our unicorns live in small, but cute stables and are let out every day to stand in their pasture and are fed proper factory-made unicorn feed. We care a lot about our unicorns' welfare, and therefor we provide them with magical massages and touches after each session. If someone is coming to meet them, who has severe mental health issues, we will consider to also give our unicorns a cleansing crystal and sage cleaning ritual afterwards. Just in case, so they don't get sick by these people.

Welcome to contact Unicorn Unlimited to book your weekend! We'll meet in the rainbow field of magic!

The Horse

My aim is not to offend anyone. I am by exaggerating and also by joking a bit trying to raise the awareness of how we objectify and instrumentalize horses in EAP, by putting labels on them, by telling what they can and can't do, by interpreting their "messages" to us humans, by thinking that what we want and appreciate is what they want and appreciate, etc. For me, this is a great danger in our field. For both horses and clients. If the field becomes about how we see horses, about what we believe a horse is and can contribute with, based on intuition, wishes, lacking knowledge and lacking self-awareness, we are going to mess up.

By labeling the horse as a healer (therapist, shaman, teacher…) we take away from both the horse, the client and the provider(s). We are unnecessarily complicating it, the therapist is a therapist, the horse is a horse, the client a client, and the (preferably present) equine professional is an equine professional. If all work together, as a team, the client will be empowered, find his/her own solutions, his/her own way of doing things, find out who he/she is, wants in life etc, etc…

We are also adding things that are not there, to the horse and to the horse-human relationship. Both taking away what is there, and adding what is not there, will add to the confusion about what EAP is.

EAP is a psychological treatment modality, a tool for therapists, to use to help clients (the horse is not a tool, but EAP is).

I do not have all the answers to why working with horses in EAP is so effectual. That is why I am doing research on it, that is why I keep on reading, keep on educating myself, keep on asking questions, keep on looking for new angles, new perspectives, keep on evaluating and trying practices and theories out. This has turned me into an equine-human interaction nerd, within the field of EAP. To understand the interaction, I early on figured out that we need more knowledge, more research on horses. Because how can we say something about why the client benefits from EAP, what role the horse plays in EAP, if we do not know who the horse is? And by that, I refer to the horse as a horse, but also the horse as A horse, a specific horse, an individual, a subject, an agent.

I am briefly going to share some of my thoughts on why we work with horses, what theories and hypotheses I use and why I think we need to look at this to be able to formulate what ethical work means in this field.

I am repeating myself from former posts and articles, but as I see it, we foremost need:

  • More knowledge about horses – knowledge about them as biological, cognitive, emotional and social beings.
  • More knowledge about horse-human interaction (what is it with this particular cross-species interaction that is helpful to clients)
  • Self-awareness!
  • A will to formulate ethics, practice, research questions, theoretical frameworks, more common language/terminology – focusing on what is, and not on what we wish for (wished for outcomes), with the client and the horse in the center.

In this note I am going to focus on the self-awareness part. What does it mean to be self-aware? In my eyes, it means to always be able to question yourself and your own perceptions, thoughts, feelings and ideas. It means to know yourself, your own lenses, your own strengths and your own weak spots.

If we are not self-aware, we are going to project out our own feelings, thoughts, ideas and perceptions onto the ones around us, which includes horses.

If we do that, we are not seeing them for who the truly are. We will only see our idea of them, and the problem is that we are not usually aware of that we project, so what we see, we will take for the truth, the reality.

Everybody projects, that is a human trait. None of us are perfect, this is why to practice self-awareness is so important. If you acknowledge your lenses and work with your projections, you will increase your potential to see the horse-individual in front of you.

I think that if we do not let the horse add his perspective to EAP, there is no point in having him there. If we only have him there to interpret and see what we want him to add and be, then his presence is really not filling the role it could.

So what do I mean by letting the horse add his perspective?

A horse is a horse, of course :-), but he is also A horse. A horse has a personality, a background/history, a way to communicate, likes, dislikes, possible illnesses and hurts, he is born somewhere and so on.

So to EAP he is bringing both species specific horse traits, some similar to our human traits, some different. But he is foremost him, one horse. Each horse is different from another horse, as humans are, while we still have traits that are typically human (if compared with e.g. horses, or cats), these traits often have to do with how our senses work, and thereby how our brains work, but not so much to do with who we are, as individuals.

The horse's perspective is a sum of all this. It is his way of being, his way of seeing his world, the individuality he possesses. This will differ from any human perspective, and all other horses' perspective, but less on the later, and more on the former.

The therapist also has his/her perspectives which are brought to therapy. They differ from the client's perspective on him/herself and how the world works. The horse's perspective also differs from the client's, and the therapist's. A skilled therapist, used to working with him/herself as a tool, by being self-aware and remove him/herself as much as possible from therapy sessions, can pick up on what goes on in a client, bypassing the use of the usual meaning of words + unspoken messages. With a horse present, the therapist gains one more outer perspective, from a being that is even more sensitive to such "language". So EAP is strengthening and adding to the therapist's toolbox, the horse can be the magnifying lens the therapist "sees" the client through, IF he/she manages this removal of him/herself, while working with the horse.

But the horse also adds to the client's perspective. By initially being a companion, sometimes very much needed, in therapy, where trust in humans can be low or non-existing. Besides being a companion (early on in therapy), the client can also more easily see what goes on within, and around him. Also for the client, the horse's presence functions as a magnifying glass to his/her own inner, and outer processes.

To give an example. A client is unaware of his own shut-down/dissociation. When trying to approach a horse, the horse seems uninterested or even leave. The client might perceive this as rejection, not being worthy, or good enough. If then the client on another occasion is acknowledging some feeling and the horse stays?

But what if the horse stays in the first scenario, and leaves in the second? That happens, of course, because the horse is not only reacting to the ones around him, he is also himself, taking care of his own needs. This is why I think the presence of an equine professional is paramount in this work – they will almost for sure know if the horse is responding to a client or to himself (or someone else in the environment, could be another horse, or another human, dog…). This is important to distinguish between, because it will inform the therapist on what goes on, or not, with the client (and will inform the equine professional about the horse and his welfare).

To see and learn from other's perspectives is tricky :-). Both possibilities contain a number of ways this can be worked with, instantly, or over time.

This is one way a horse can support a therapist. He is him. Adding his perspective, or magnifying the client's perspective (belief systems, patterns…). There are other ways he supports the therapist in his/her work too, offering e.g. the bi-lateral stimulation of sound, movement, rhythm, offering the client grounding opportunities, being a point of reference, being a projection screen, helping the client to open up and drop some of their defenses etc. Simultaneously the horse is also supporting the client with the same things, but from a client perspective.

What do I mean by the word "support"? I mean solely this. That the horse brings himself. I use different theories to understand what the horse brings, as himself, as a horse, one is the theory of intersubjectivity, another is the theory of social affordance. These theories are providing me different lenses, different perspectives to look at EAP through and from. None of them will give me, or anyone else THE answer...

"Affordances ( J. J. Gibson, 1979/1986) are the opportunities for perception and action offered by the environment to an animal [human animals, non-human animals, my add]; they are what the environment [other beings] offers the animal in the context of its capacities, both physical and psychological. According to Gibson's theory, affordances are perceived directly rather than inferred, deduced, or retrieved by association. They are neither in the environment nor in the perceiver, but are derived from the ecological relationship between perceiver and perceived.

If indeed affordances reflect the ecological niche of the perceiver, it follows that the environment does not afford the same things to different animals. This fact leads us to consider what the world offers humans that it does not offer other species." (Loveland, 1991).

According to this theory, the horse socially lends himself, in a direct way, to the client to interpret (using his own inner world and understanding of the outer world). We lend ourselves in the same way to each other, as we also lend ourselves to the horse to perceive the world trough. To work in this way, bypasses the conscious use of language, and what lies beneath it becomes more accessible. That the horse has another way of perceiving the world than humans have, highlights, makes patterns, behaviors, beliefs more transparent, easier to see, for both client and therapist.

All this, the horse does simply by being a horse. Once we start putting other attributes on to him, e.g as healers, magical unicorns… etc, whether it is the therapists or equine professionals doing that, what the horse can bring, is lost. What we then offer the client, is our own lenses, to see the world through, by using the horse as the magical go-between offering his solutions, that are not the horse's, but the facilitators.

I hope I make sense :-) This is very simple, the horse is himself, yet very complex, why is a horse, being a horse, helping in therapy?

How is he supporting the therapist, the client, the therapeutic process, how is he bringing in his own perspectives?

I am ending here (for today…) – and going back to my thesis writing, delving into these questions, and different theories… 

And hope you all see that I do not mean to offend anyone, but want to, try to highlight some of the more serious pitfalls in this work. I think most of us have fallen into them on one occasion or another. Me too. I still do sometimes. This is a new and emerging field, still. And a lot of research is lacking. To some extent we are all moving forward with trial and error methods, stumbling around a bit in the dark. Therefor it becomes even more important to stick to proven psychotherapeutic values and ethics, when we do EAP, even if, or also because we have horses present.

Adding, we can never know what goes on in another, and since the horse can't tell us verbally what he is experiencing, we learn to watch his behaviors and listen to this other way of communicating. A horse is not a human. Although we are both mammals, we are also very different. Using human concepts and ideas without reflection when we try to understand any species, will take away from that species, and from our own understanding of it. As it would if I used my own concepts of humans when I meet other humans. We for sure have some human traits in common, me and other humans, but the differences our individuality brings, are huge, beautiful and enriching, as is the difference a horse as an individual is bringing into EAP.

In therapy we are helping one individual at a time, with targeted assistance, to that individual. And bringing in A horse into that setting, is bringing in an individual horse, who will "support" the therapeutic process in his way, bringing his perspectives.

A horse is A horse, of course!

Loveland, K. A. (1991). Social Affordances and Interaction II: Autism and the Affordances of the Human Environment. Ecological Psychology. Volume: 3. Issue: 2. Page Number: 99 fp.
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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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