I wanted to share this article from Psychology Today by Dr. Melanie Greenberg with all my readers. The rate of women with the condition is nearly double!
I was recently interviewed for a capstone project by a Cazenovia College student. I thought I would share the interview here in case it helps others understand what we do here at the farm and how it helps people. This may answer some questions you didn’t even know you had! Enjoy. – CLM
Q. What is your profession and background?
I am a mental health counselor, life coach, and equine behavior specialist. I have a Master of Science in Counseling specializing in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I also have a Bachelor of Science in Education and an A.A.S. in Equine Science. I taught horseback riding and driving lessons on my own farm from 1987 – 2002 and taught elementary school from 1990 – 1995. Currently I have an office in Cazenovia for life coaching/counseling and offer classes in transpersonal subjects, and I also offer equine-assisted sessions at my farm in Chittenango, where I have 5 rescued horses (and 4 Nigerian dwarf goats). I have my NY certification in Substance Abuse Counseling (CASAC-T), I am a certified clinical trauma professional (CCTP), and a certified hypnotherapist (CHt). Recently I have started to offer mental health and substance abuse counseling at another office in Syracuse.
Q. What is your experience working with animal assisted therapy?
I am credentialed through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), which is considered the gold standard for equine-assisted psychotherapy practice. I am also trained through Natural Lifemanship, which is specifically trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy (TF-EAP). I also have a Post-Masters certificate in Equine-Assisted Mental Health from Prescott College (15 credit hours and a 200-hour field experience/internship beyond the Masters requirements). I have co-facilitated group and individual equine-assisted sessions at Horse Sense of the Carolinas (in Marshall, NC), notably a 4-day female veterans retreat and an in-patient detox group. I have both trained at and co-facilitated sessions in equine-assisted psychotherapy at a facility in Sand Point, Idaho. I have designed and facilitated spiritual group mini-retreat experiences at Rivendell Farm (my farm), and I currently facilitate individual and group equine-assisted sessions there as well.
Q. What are benefits you have witnessed from animal assisted therapy?
I can’t speak to any other animals used in psychotherapy and I can’t speak to physical therapy with horses. (We should be specific if we are talking about psychotherapy, because there are several different therapies done with animals and not all of them have to do with mental health.) However, equine-assisted psychotherapy has been proven effective in the amelioration of several mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, childhood/complex trauma, dissociative identity disorder, grief, alcohol and substance use disorders, eating disorders, etc.
As far as benefits I’ve seen personally: the client seems to immediately trust the counselor because the horses demonstrate that they trust the counselor. I think the client is put immediately at ease because if the horses like the counselor, then they are more willing to trust the counselor as well. People who like animals are also more at ease around animals than people (and around other animal people), very often, and so the presence of the animal, in our case a horse, helps to alleviate much of the anxiety the client may have toward the counselor (as a human). I have seen the mere activity of brushing a horse — or touching or petting or hugging a horse — somehow help the client relax and become more willing to talk to the counselor in an easy and open manner. Also, the ability to be able to have appropriate physical contact with another being is soothing to the client, because human beings are often starved for touch and can be frightened by touch from another person, especially if there is abuse in their traumatic past. The animal poses no such threat.
With trauma-focused EAP, I have both experienced and witnessed cross-brain connections being rebuilt (or built for the first time) in the relational model of Natural Lifemanship that helps the person come out of their reactive lower brain and work from their neocortex, or their thinking brain. Cross-brain connections are important for self-regulation. A fully connected brain is a fully functioning brain that can see options other than fight, flight, or freeze. When a person has been traumatized, they tend to revert to their lower brain regions and the neocortex goes offline. In building the relationship with the horse (who is a prey animal that also works mostly from their lower brain regions: the brain stem, midbrain, and limbic portions of the brain that have evolved for the horse’s survival, and in horses is activated or engaged most of the time), both the client and the horse benefit from the relationship and seem to develop the ability to approach situations and relationships from their neocortex much more than previously.
Horses also teach about setting boundaries very quickly, because there are some horses that don’t respect boundaries, or they have their own boundaries that need to be respectfully addressed. So, the client must learn how to set boundaries and respect boundaries in a relationship in order to have a healthy relationship that is comfortable for both parties. This can then be transferred to any relationship, including those important relationships with loved ones.
And it never ceases to amaze me that the same group of horses can react in a completely different way to two different clients, on the same day and in the same area. They are so sensitive to the energy from the client (that prey hyperarousal) – and from the equine specialist and mental health counselor as well, so we have to be careful to be calm and congruent and try to keep our own energy out of the client’s session. The inverse of this is to help the horse learn to self-regulate by keeping one’s energy calm and congruent and so demonstrate that skill to the client.
Q. What are common limitations/restrictions that individuals may experience?
Some clients have a fear of horses that may restrict them from a desire to do EAP, and in that case, the fear must be worked through first, or they may just not be candidates for EAP. Some clients (elders or combat veterans with physical disabilities, for example) may find the barnyard terrain challenging. Other than that, everyone can participate at some level in EAP. Sometimes a session consists of observing the herd from outside the enclosure. Other sessions could entail mingling in the pasture with the herd or grooming a single horse in the barn, and some of the TF-EAP sessions may include Rhythmic Riding – which is not horseback riding, per se. No saddle or bridle is involved. Clients are mounted on the horse with a bareback pad and led by the Equine Specialist (ES) at the walk. The rhythm of the horse under the client helps them build cross-brain connections that they may not have developed because of past trauma. (Anything rhythmic, that is predictable, reliable, and comfortable will help to build those cross-brain connections.) EAP is easily adapted to a client’s capabilities and comfort level. Riding is not a necessary part of EAP in some models. In fact, the EAGALA model is strictly ground-based.
Q. What are issues that occur with access to animal assisted therapy?
The biggest issue in Central NY is weather. If you don’t have an indoor arena to work in, winter sessions usually don’t happen on a regular basis. You can lose clients that way if they get bored in the office or use the weather as a reason to miss their appointment. Another issue is that the client may have to travel some distance to get to a facility that offers EAP, because it is usually offered in a rural area, at a farm or ranch. There are also very few professionals offering this modality of treatment, so it’s not readily available at this point, especially in Central NY.
Q. Is there any controversy about animal assisted therapy? If so, what is it?
I think the biggest controversy in the EAP world is the fact that facilitators of equine-assisted therapies must hold the appropriate credentials for the therapy they offer. It’s extremely confusing for a layperson to navigate all the equine-assisted therapies that are out there. There is equine-assisted coaching, and equine-assisted hippotherapy that is usually offered by a physical or occupational therapist that is not mental health-focused. I have seen people with no credentials whatsoever offering equine programs to veterans, for instance, and the fact that these programs actually help the veterans in spite of the lack of training of the facilitators speaks more to the healing ability of the horse-human relationship than anything else. Imagine how much more successful an intentional EAP program could be! There is a fine line also between equine-assisted coaching/leadership training (also known as equine-assisted learning) and equine-assisted counseling, and a coach has to be very careful about crossing that line between coaching and mental health counseling (or psychotherapy), because it’s illegal to practice anything that even resembles mental health counseling without a license.
In the counseling world, I think there is also a misunderstanding about “using” the horse as a metaphor in the session. And they say if the session can be run without the horse and get the same result, then why bother to use the horse at all? But as I said above, a lot of times it is the horse-human relationship we are interested in, building that relationship in healthy ways and observing how that relationship highlights behaviors that may have once been appropriate but are no longer working for the client..
A third controversy is the concept from equine behavior specialists that perhaps the horses are not doing this voluntarily, and so the question arises, is it ethical practice from the horse’s perspective? With this in mind, we should do everything in our power to make sure they are happy doing this work and give them a lot of time off because all the emotional sensitivity required can be hard on them. The team must be aware when a horse may be showing signs of stress and give him appropriate time off.
Q. What are your personal thoughts and opinion on animal assisted therapy?
I believe that in the right hands (someone trained to offer the modality), EAP may be more successful than traditional office-based psychotherapy. Some clients that don’t thrive or improve in 20 sessions of office psychotherapy could have a huge breakthrough in the first EAP session (and often do). Issues seem to come up quickly in the relationship-building between horse and client because horses above all recognize when a client isn’t being authentic and a good EAP facilitator will be able to get to the heart of the matter by watching the interaction between horse and client. For many clients, the barn becomes a safe place to try out new ways of being and relating that they can then take out into their relationships with other people. And it’s all about relationship.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add or any additional comments about animal assisted therapy?
I want to add that you can’t take a class in AAT and then hang a shingle as an equine-assisted practitioner (and believe me, I know of people who have done that). Credentialed EAP counselors (or the counseling team of ES and MH) are highly trained in both equine and human behavioral sciences, and then in the combination of both that other psychotherapists are not trained in. It is unethical to offer a counseling modality that the practitioner is not trained to facilitate.
This was posted on Facebook and I just wanted to share it with all of you. Thank you, Father Hendrick. – C.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
March 13th 2020
I am writing to update you about our work together as we all cope with the threat of the coronavirus. I want to let you know that for the time being, I am continuing to see individual clients in my office. However, your physical and emotional well-being will always be a priority, therefore given the uncertainty of our current situation, I think it is important to discuss options. Self-care during this period is so important. Therefore, as you know, if you are feeling sick, or are showing signs of sickness, it’s important to stay home. However, if that is the case and you would like to keep your appointment, I want to offer you the opportunity to videoconference or have a phone session. In addition, if you are healthy but still feel uncomfortable coming into the office these formats are also available to you. Just let me know and I can send instructions to you by email. If you are unable to keep your appointment, please continue to follow my cancellation policy, which requires 24 hour advanced notice.
As many of you know, I videoconference often. But since there are some treatments that should not be or cannot be done over videoconference, I intend to continue coming into the office for individual sessions as long as it is safe, but may have to stop if required by local ordinances.
This is an unprecedented time where we need as much support as possible. Please know that I am here for you and will find a way to continue working with you until this runs its course. As overwhelming as this situation may be right now, it will eventually pass. It’s important to hold onto hope, and staying connected to others is important for our emotional well-being. If you have any questions or concerns please reach out by email (email@example.com) or phone (315-289-2030).
Thank you and stay well,
Please Note: Classes and group sessions are cancelled until further notice, or have moved to Zoom online. Please refer to the event calendar to check on a specific class or group meeting.
I spoke with someone today who was on the fence about working with me. And you know, if you are on the fence, if you aren’t sure you’re ready to move forward, then you are probably still in pre-contemplation, which means you probably aren’t ready to take action. I am a direct person, and I will be candid with you and tell you that. To be perfectly honest, people who are not sure if they are ready to heal and get unstuck and open up their possibilities are not the people I want to work with. Because if you aren’t really ready to get into the trenches and work this, then we are both wasting our precious time. But if you ARE sure, if you ARE ready, if you’ve just had enough of being stuck where you are, then I will be your most staunch supporter, in your corner and advocating for you all the way with everything I’ve got — all of my considerable knowledge, wisdom, experience, and passion.
And it may not be easy. It’s not easy to figure out where you need to make changes in your life to get to where you want to be. And it could be intense; looking at past trauma and how it continues to play out in your life today is often intense. But I promise you, the work we do together will be effective. And it might even be fun sometimes. It will definitely be rewarding.
But you have to commit to it, to giving it a certain amount of time and effort. Don’t expect that one or two hours with a counselor like me is going to “cure” you. During the first few sessions, it may seem like there is not much movement at all. But that is the place we are gathering the fuel to take off. After all, it took you a lifetime to get where you are now; there is no reason to think that truly healing those wounds (thereby creating the change you are seeking) will only take a few sessions.
And opening old wounds can be painful. Because of this, you may initially feel worse and not better. Because of this, you may conclude that this kind of therapy isn’t working for you. But this is just the point where you need to stay with it, because (to continue with the wound analogy) a wound that is only superficially healed can fester and cause problems in the future. (You know this; that is how you got to where you are in the first place.) You have to allow time and therapy to help you re-open and properly clean that festering wound so it can heal from the inside out.
For this reason, I will usually ask you to commit to several sessions. It is not unreasonable to expect that it will take about 3 months of weekly sessions to be able to track progress and realize forward movement. You owe yourself that time, that commitment, at the very least. When you think about that, it’s only 90 days, and the actual sessions with me in those 90 days are only 12 hours out of your life. And I’ll be with you all the way — because once you commit to yourself and show me that you’re serious about healing, I will also be fully committed to you and do everything in my power to collaborate with you to help you reach your goals and get you to where you want to be.