The following blog was written by Elizabeth Hannah of Black Horse Therapies. Her reflections on how we label therapeutic work with young people can be applied to all therapies, including therapy with animals, and may benefit many living with FASD.
Unfortunately, coronavirus health precautions mean accessing therapy is more difficult at this time. However, Equine Assisted Therapy and other supports can be considered by families applying for NDIS funding or a review of their NDIS plan. For more information about applying for NDIS click here. Some services, including Black Horse Therapies (see flyer) are still operating at this time.
Recently I was called by the carer of a 14 year old, Joel, who she suspects has FASD. The first thing she said to me was “We can’t call it therapy or he won’t come.” He especially didn’t like being asked to talk about his feelings. His experiences of therapy and counselling had not been happy ones for him.
I agreed to see Joel and thought about how I could make the sessions with the horses therapeutic without using the language of therapy. I did this in the following ways:
- When Joel arrived for his first session I said that my understanding was that he had come to “spend time with the horses, to learn about them and to have some fun with them”. He was happy with this and this was our agreement. Joel’s carer said that he was happy and relaxed after the session and keen to return. She said that I’d formed a good relationship with him.
- Instead of asking Joel directly how he was feeling, I would do so indirectly by talking about the horse he was working with. For example: “You must be feeling pretty calm today because the horse is calm and if you weren’t she would pick up on it.” Joel’s response: “I guess so”.
We started out by noticing how the horse was feeling, recognizing their body language and signals as to whether or not they were feeling safe and comfortable with Joel. His attentiveness and awareness of the horse’s state has been increasing as he practices.
Recently I introduced the idea that we should observe how our energy or internal state was affecting the horse. We hadn’t discussed our observations of this yet as I’m careful not to put pressure on Joel to “talk about his feelings.” I did however emphasize that Joel should tell me if he was getting tired or had had enough, that it’s important for safety that we recognize and respect the energy of everyone in the yard. In this way I was encouraging Joel to be aware of his internal state and to take responsibility for it, which is a big part of learning emotional regulation. The aim with the therapy work is that the skills and awareness learned in the horse yard will flow on to relationships with other people and situations in the person’s life.
By the third session Joel was engaging with me in a way he hadn’t initially. He went from shrugging and saying “I don’t know” to having a conversation with me.
I think a reluctance to attend therapy is quite common among teenage males. They might say “I don’t need therapy. There’s nothing wrong with me.” It’s important for them that they appear “normal” to their peer group. Equine Assisted Therapy offers an enjoyable experience for young people where they can relax, develop and learn new skills without feeling that they’re “in therapy”.
Elizabeth is a qualified psychotherapist who practices Equine Assisted Therapy and Narrative Therapy on a property near Kyneton, Victoria.
You can find out more on: blackhorsetherapies.ntpages.com.au
or on Facebook: Black Horse Therapies
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