Callam’s Story: Equine Assisted Therapy, Narrative Therapy & FASD
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) involves interacting with a horse and then reflecting on the experience. This reflection may be done in a number of ways:
- verbally by the client
- the client listening to the observations of the therapist and support person attending the session
- privately at home
Through EAT clients learn emotion regulation skills which can be applied to daily living and their relationships with people. The following is a case study of a teenager with FASD. His name and personal details have been changed to protect his confidentiality.
Callam was a 13-year-old with a diagnosis of FASD and a history of childhood trauma, who had been in 8 out-of-home care placements since the age of 5. He was attending school part-time. He was brought for therapy by his carer Tanya, because he was experiencing sudden onset explosive aggression, both at home and at school, and was frequently sent home from school. He was also having trouble with concentration and impulsiveness. Callum had no previous contact with horses. His previous experiences in counselling had been negative and he remained resistant to attending therapy sessions.
Callam was clearly distressed and agitated on his arrival and didn’t wish to speak to the therapist about why he was there. He’d had a hard time at school that morning. Tanya and his case worker were present as support people and observers, and spoke on his behalf. This part of the conversation was kept short. Callam began to take an interest when the therapist spoke about the horse he would be working with and what would be expected from him in the yard.
Once in the yard with a horse Callam began to relax. He followed the therapist’s instructions on how to approach the horse and paid attention to regulating his breathing. The horse responded very quickly and positively to Callam and clearly felt safe with him. Callam approached the horse slowly and with a posture which communicated that he was not a threat. He stroked the horse’s nose and neck. The horse showed she felt safe and comfortable with Callam by dropping her head and licking him. Callam was then asked to show leadership by using his posture and his energy to get the horse to move away from him, and by leading her around the yard.
When Callam moved towards the gate at the end of the session the horse followed him of her own accord, which made Callam smile. He stopped and stroked her and they seemed to have formed a warm connection. When asked how that went Callam replied “good”. This was the only time he spoke to the therapist.
Back in the therapy room the therapist, Tanya, and the case worker discussed what they had observed in the yard – Callam’s calmness with the horse, his ability to listen carefully and follow instructions, that the horse clearly felt safe with him and wanted to be close to him. He had demonstrated emotional regulation and assertiveness without aggression, as well as his capacity to form a connection with another individual. Tanya had tears in her eyes and said she didn’t know Callam was capable of all she had just witnessed.
Benefits of therapy
During Callam’s second session, Tanya reported that his behavior at home had improved noticeably. The frequency of angry outbursts had reduced from two or three to one per week, and he wasn’t physically aggressive towards her during the outbursts. He was “still struggling” at school. In spite of Callam’s resistance to attending therapy, these improvements at home continued.
Callam decided to return to school full-time and did well, winning an award for English. This must have taken enormous strength and determination given the trauma he has experienced and the brain injury he lives with. What he will achieve in his life remains to be seen, but his experiences in the horse yard demonstrated that he has strengths and abilities which were not expected.
This blog is based on a case study completed by Elizabeth Hannah as part of a Graduate Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Elizabeth practices Equine Assisted Therapy and Narrative Therapy near Kyneton, Victoria. For more information go to her website.
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