Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a daily battle, affecting individuals of all ages. Coping with the aftermath of traumatic experiences requires a unique and holistic approach to healing. Equine assisted counseling, an innovative counseling approach, offers a powerful avenue for individuals with PTSD to embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and recovery. In this blog post, we will explore how the presence of equines, the tranquil herd environment, and the psychotherapeutic process itself can help clients find solace, build resilience, and reclaim their lives.
Staying Grounded in the Presence of Equines
Equines have an innate ability to sense and respond to human emotions, providing a remarkable sense of grounding and presence. When engaging in equine assisted counseling, clients often find solace in the comforting presence of these majestic animals. The physicality and immediacy of interacting with equines help individuals stay grounded in the present moment, allowing them to step away from the overwhelming memories and anxieties that frequently accompany PTSD.
Creating a Safe Space within the Tranquil Herd Environment
The serene and tranquil environment where equine assisted counseling takes place can be profoundly therapeutic for clients with PTSD. Equines live in a tightly bonded herd, characterized by a sense of safety, trust, and acceptance. As clients enter this environment, they experience a unique sense of belonging, free from judgment or expectations. The herd’s peacefulness and non-verbal communication become a catalyst for emotional healing and growth.
Processing Difficult Experiences and Emotions
The powerful presence of equines in equine assisted counseling sessions can help clients navigate and process difficult experiences and emotions associated with PTSD. As clients form connections with the equines, they often find it easier to express and explore their own traumatic memories. Equines become gentle guides in the healing process, allowing individuals to confront and work through their emotions at a pace that feels manageable.
Recognizing the Window of Tolerance
Equine assisted counseling empowers clients to recognize their own “window of tolerance” – the range of emotional states in which they can function effectively. By observing how equines respond to their emotions, individuals with PTSD can gain insight into their own physiological and emotional reactions. Through this self-awareness, they learn to identify when they are becoming overwhelmed and develop skills to regulate their emotional states more effectively.
Learning to Identify Needs, Communicate, and Set Healthy Boundaries
Interacting with equines can be a powerful experience for clients, helping them gain insight into patterns of communication, assertiveness, and boundary setting. Equines respond to non-verbal cues and provide immediate feedback, creating a safe space for clients to practice assertiveness and healthy communication. Equine assisted counseling facilitates the development of crucial life skills, empowering individuals to identify their own needs, communicate effectively, and establish healthy boundaries – invaluable tools for navigating relationships and building resilience in their everyday lives.
Increasing Positive Feelings and Hopefulness
The transformative power of equine assisted counseling extends beyond immediate therapeutic sessions. Clients often report increased positive feelings and a restored sense of hopefulness about the future. The relationships formed with the equines, the supportive therapeutic environment, and the progress made in addressing their PTSD symptoms contribute to a renewed belief in their own resilience and capacity for growth.
Improved Self-Worth and Self-Compassion
Equine assisted counseling can profoundly impact clients’ perceptions of self. Through their interactions with equines, individuals develop a deep sense of self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-compassion. Equines, with their ability to meet individuals exactly where they are, empower clients to embrace their vulnerabilities, strengths, and unique qualities. As clients witness the non-judgmental response from these intuitive creatures, they begin to see themselves through a lens of kindness and appreciation
STEPS With Horses, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to equine assisted mental health services, offers two distinct approaches to address PTSD in different age groups. Our Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling approach focuses on building safe and trusting relationships with equines, integrating principles of interpersonal neurobiology, and creating a space for clients to explore their personal beliefs and experiences. This approach is designed for older children, teens, and adults, emphasizing experiential therapy and the therapeutic power of the equine-human connection.
For younger children ages 4 and older, STEPS offers Equine-Partnered Play Therapy. This form of play therapy enables children to engage with miniature horses while expressing and processing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through play – their language, and toys – their words. The presence of these horses aids children in gaining greater self-regulation, self-control, empathy, self-awareness, decision-making, communication, and confidence.
By harnessing the healing power of equines, STEPS With Horses provides invaluable support to those living with PTSD, helping them rediscover their strength, resilience, and hope for a brighter future.
If you are interested in experiencing the power of the human-equine relationship, contact us at www.stepswithhorses.org/contact
Interested in giving the life-changing gift of equine assisted counseling? Support our clients and our therapy herd at www.stepswithhorses.org/donate