What is needed that horses can give in the face of human trauma?
In a recent article in the Global News by Mia Sheldon, horses were given credit for helping people with mental health challenges. Mia interview a person named Lauri Walker
“I never thought I would be a victim, I thought I could do it on my own, but I couldn’t. I needed help.” The article continues to tell some of Lauri's story describing her situation:
"living alone on 21 acres outside Owen Sound, Ont., Walker cherishes nothing more than having a home and being around animals. But after a string of abusive relationships, Lauri says she was left defeated.“I wasn’t really all that interested in typical therapy again with a doctor. I thought it would be all the same, make me feel bad about everything,” says Walker. That was when someone at Victim Services, a branch of the Ontario Government, mentioned Equine Therapy.Equine-assisted therapy is a growing trend among those dealing with issues such as depression, PTSD, grief, substance abuse or anxiety. It has also been used in treating autism or with youth who are in and out of the criminal justice system."
The wonderful part about this story is that Lauri is not the only one who is now able to access resources to a wonderful experience with horses. At Shamrock Counselling (www.shamrockcounselling.com) there is another opportunity spanning across the country from Ontario to Abbotsford BC where experiences of horses help healing relationships. I am privileged to have both horsemanship and mental health experience, therefore enabling me to share horses with people who have experienced trauma. I work with all ages and all walks of life and these are some of the beliefs I have about horses in the work.
Horses provide a different kind of office to practice relationships
I do not believe that counselling needs to be isolated and enclosed within four walls… what happens in sessions should be able to be used on the outside, in someone’s lived life. Sometimes this is called experiential therapy and is why I believe that horses help creating practical applications of the utmost importance. Can you imagine having 40 acres and five horses as a part of the counselling experience? What kind of a world would that create to allow the freedom to explore and express yourself. You can move, not just emotionally but also physically and can release any of the negative thoughts and emotions into the vast amount of space at your disposal. Although horses prefer to eat and be in peace, which in the human world, might be called lazy, this way of being for a horse is still fluid and there are always changes in connections. We can learn about how to create this space from horses.
Horses are not afraid to make mistakes and be curious about the process
When we are held by guilt, shame, and feelings of not being good enough we suffer.There is no “perfection” on the farm and no make wrongs as I usually say. I can say these things with confidence, as I know that just as horses create fluid space to do things in, they also make that space about the grace to be as you are. Nothing is ever the same and when you have 2000+ animals with their own ideas of how sessions should go, it makes for creative problem solving and interesting solutions. Here we move out of any final fictive goals and move into a realm of possibilities. I always hope to set people up for success. And a big value of mine is to have people leave feeling as though they can talk about the hard stuff but be ok to go about their day. Another way that horses can open space to make mistakes is that they make places to be in a relationships that do not have hidden intensions or motives. Trauma research states explicitly that these are key components of healing and working though trauma.
A place of peace and rest
Trauma often takes peace and rest out of the equation leaving behind a tangled mess of distorted perceptions. When this happens it seems that there would be no place left in the world to have this feeling. Often survivors are held in a prison that many people cannot see – a mental prison, which can be one of the hardest places to live. How do you escape a place that doesn't have any walls? One of the answers would be to put yourself into an environment that is different than what trauma is used to. I am thankful to have my farm become this place. People have often described themselves as going to another planet when they arrive and walk the back 40 listening to the birds, the wind in the trees, seeing the eagles flying above and watching the horses grazing together on fresh smelling green grass. All of the senses are utilized and awakened making it easier to see things from a new perspective. This becomes important when facing trauma as trauma has a mind of its own.
Cristina works in Abbotsford BC and is the creator of both Shamrock Counselling Services (www.shamrockcounselling.com ) & Sundance Solace Society (www.sundancesolace.com). Sundance Solace is a non-profit branch that focuses on the power of nature to benefit people. If you would like to be involved there are a number of opportunities including: professional and practicum internships, associate positions, and volunteering. Please contact Cristina for more information
By Cristina Rennie MA, RCC, CEIP – MH
604 751 2354