We hope you have enjoyed the Easter break. This time of year regularly invokes a need to spring clean – this could be our homes, our working lives or our own emotional intelligence so we thought this month we would look at detoxification and cleansing – both emotionally and physically.
“Detox” was once one of those trendy words for diet fads, however, “detoxification” is a natural body process. Many organs are involved in this process and primarily our liver. It is basically a process of converting toxins to something less harmful to either re-utilise or to safely get them to the outside (via our excretory organs). Our bodies mainly do this when we are relaxed, particularly when we are asleep and our ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system is more active. This process does not work efficiently when we are stressed (‘sympathetic’ nervous system hyperactivation), have disrupted or too little sleep, or are too overloaded with a variety of toxins and other stress factors.
‘Toxins’ can be chemical, biological compounds (from food, air, water, drugs, medication) but they can also come from our emotions. What we believe, think and feel can lead to the body creating biological compounds too (like stress hormones, neurotransmitters).
This can have an effect on our immunity and resilience. Sometimes these ‘toxic’ emotions (like negative beliefs, worries, anxiety, concerns) create havoc and chaos. But more often than not it has to become painful enough for us to really want to do something about it.
So sometimes we actually create them internally on top of the physical ones we may consume on top of it to help us cope. However, often this leads more to a numbing of our felt sense of these emotions. When we build up too many “emotional” toxins in our system we eventually might recognise that we need to digest, detoxify and excrete those too. This is important to make room for new things, enabling growth and change. Again, if we are stressed, we won’t have the emotional capacity or space to do this and to really stay connected with ourselves to know what we need to enable this.
We need to connect more with ourselves and with others…
Connecting with ourselves is important to be able to listen to what our bodies and minds need, what we need to let go off in order to move forward. “Detoxing” is therefore not only essential to recharge us physically (sleep, fresh air, exercise, and a nutritious diet), but also needs to occur mentally and emotionally (love, compassion, appreciation, gratitude, and meditation). We can do this by choosing things that helps us “connect more” to ourselves and subsequently to others which may be different for each person.
We mostly find it difficult to connect with ourselves when we are too busy, stressed and predominantly focused in our “heads”. When focused in our “heads” we do a lot of thinking, rationalising, analysing, justifying, intellectualising, worrying, planning, and these would generally be about the past or future events. Yet, really being present in the here-and-now with ourselves and within our bodies is often difficult for most people in the busy lives we lead. Yet all body sensations are part of our moment-to-moment experience.
To be more connected to ourselves, our bodies and the present moment is something that is termed “mindfulness”. Being more mindful of the present and every moment.
So how can we connect more with ourselves? What helps us to stay more mindful, more connected? Is it doing something nurturing for ourselves? (For example: having a bath, going for a walk in nature, listening to music, making some nourishing foods, spending time with a pet or a friend). If we do listen more to ourselves, how can we let go off some old and unhelpful beliefs that no longer serve us? How can we replace them with more helpful beliefs? Where or from whom could we seek more help for this?
So this Easter weekend may be a good time to reflect on these things, to get to know ourselves better, to start some emotional and physical spring cleaning to get us ready to renew and make some changes that were perhaps long overdue.
We’d love to hear from you what you think about the topic, and please contact us with any questions.
This month I came across and interesting animation film on the meaning of addiction. I thought it was very good and though this ‘new way’ of thinking about addiction has been around for a few years, it is still surrounded by quite a lot of controversy and misunderstanding.
In this blog I will look at addiction, what it means, what is helpful and not so helpful and what we can do about it.
When we think of “addiction”, here we can mean anything from substance abuse to behaviour addictions – e.g. like drugs, sex, gambling, food or shopping.
Addictive behaviour can develop into addiction cycles which means certain “repetitive cycles” that are preceded by a thought pattern, craving and an action pattern, relieving the craving.
When I see clients in my clinic with addiction issues, I see it more as an addiction to those thinking and behaviour patterns, from which clients feel the need to escape using drugs or other activities.
But why does it happen? Why do we do it? What gets us there? What keeps us there?
In his book “The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery” (2013) Lawrence Peltz describes addiction as “a trance state, where the user repeatedly dissociates from painful emotions via (…) self-medication.” (p.45).
And there is a fine line between the moment of pleasure that makes life feel liveable and a pattern of dissociating or checking out.
Peltz also describes how craving is a common occurrence to all stages of the addictive cycle. The experience of craving can be very different depending on the intent of the person.
Just thinking about the drug or substance or the mere promise of gratification, is enough to initiate the reward process in both mind and body. Actual physical sensations can be felt and muscles relax. In this case craving is a pleasurable experience psychologically and physically – it leads to a predictable outcome. The brain knows this before the drug or behaviour is introduced.
This works really well. Until it doesn’t.
In early recovery this experience is no longer pleasurable. When trying really hard to stay clean and fighting against upcoming cravings, inner conflicts and difficult emotions will come to the surface.
The struggle becomes all about the craving. Between the pain that the craving isn’t going away fast enough, and wanting it to go away, makes it even stronger psychologically as well as physically. This intensifies the newly felt aversion to the craving and increases the risk of relapse despite best intentions. This in turn results in more physical, emotional and psychological stress.
So ‘using’ or gratifying our addiction makes us feel better. At first. And then it doesn’t.
Unfortunately the side effect is that the addiction to the pattern itself becomes painful and a physical and emotional stressor.
It is this addictive cycle and pattern that is called an addiction. And we can see that this could involve many more things than just substance abuse.
Currently, the medical profession sees addiction as a disease. This is because addiction changes the wiring of our brain; our brains physically change with addiction.
However, Marc Lewis, neuroscientist and professor of developmental psychology, describes that our brains constantly rewire depending on what we learn.
In his book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease” (2015), Lewis describes brain change (also known as neuroplasticity) as the fundamental mechanism “by which infants grow into toddlers, who grow into children, who grow into adults, who continue to grow.”
“Brain changes underlie the transformations of thinking and feeling. Brains have to change for learning to take place. Without physical changes in brain matter, learning is impossible.”
He therefore argues that addiction is not a disease but a developmental issue – a learnt habit. With this in mind, it must then be also possible to unlearn the habit.
Yes – this seems to be true. But of course this is never easy, like kicking any other habit, and especially if there is a biological component to substance dependency.
Because of this new theory, Professor Lewis believes “quitting” is not “recovery” from a disease but should best be seen as a further development (e.g. = new or re- learning).
Anxiety and depression states can actually act in similar ways to other types of addiction. Lewis argues that this is partly because it gets us into similar cycles and patterns of thinking and behaving.
Often this may be linked to previous trauma, early adversity and “attachment injuries” (i.e. early caregiving challenges and childhood trauma).
Flores explains in his book “Addiction is an Attachment Disorder” (2011) that this is because addiction is a disorder in self-regulation. Individuals who are addicted have substituted some of their attachment needs to a chemical solution or a type of behaviour solution.
People who become dependent on addictive substances are unable to regulate their emotions, self-care, self-esteem, and relationships. Flores reviews much evidence to underpin his theory and advocates that the key to the solution is human connection.
From neuroscience we now learn that supporting an individual to find emotional regulation allows the experience of more secure attachment, as Kathakis (2012) describes with cases of female sex and love addiction.
Supporting emotional regulation is one of the key elements in psychotherapy.
Trauma plays therefore a key part in this addictive cycle. Whether it is social, psychological or sexual trauma, early adversity or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – it often underlies anxiety and depression. Substance abuse amongst those with PTSD is as high as 60-80 (Lewis, 2015).
In the work with my clients I utilise many sensorimotor (body-focussed) approaches to help with emotional regulation and embodied awareness via sensory experiencing. This is also key in supporting the processing of trauma that is stored in our bodies mainly as procedural memory (Ogden & Fisher, 2015).
In journalist Johann Hari’s New York Times best-selling book ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ (2015), which the animation video above is adapted from, addiction is defined as the lack of us human beings going back to basics: to seek and have connection.
He says very succinctly at the end: “The opposite of addiction is connection.”
I like this idea, because a lot of our lives nowadays are no longer as they were for millennia of our evolution. Our culture in human terms has changed dramatically with the advances of technology and faster processes in a very short time. When we think of our modern cities, we have created new artificial and virtual playgrounds. Despite the sheer volume and number of people living in these places, it doesn’t mean people connect intimately with each other. Competition is high amongst individuals, as are feelings of loneliness and lack of supportive loving connections. We also don’t live in big families within communities anymore. We are often disconnected from others and particularly form ourselves.
So addiction can be seen as cycles and patterns that emerge in our lives when we cannot reduce the anxiety or pain we carry through natural means – e.g. loving and intimate connections with people. Addiction has also been described as “the only prison where the locks are on the inside.”
The reason why I think the idea of “lack of connection” is so important, is because we know now that even the “genetic” scapegoat is highly overrated.
From science we know that the environment can change our genetic expression (also called the study of epigenetics). These environmental influences include how things make us feel, our thoughts, our social interactions and connections, and what we eat, drink, the air we breathe, and much more. Multiple factors play a role in the potential to modulate genetic expression and make us more or less susceptible, if we have addiction in the family or not.
Lewis explains that addiction is a developmental process. Our brains change (= neuroplasticity) for new behaviours and learning to take place. Hence, we can imagine that neuroplasticity and epigenetics will have their role to play in the process of addiction, and if we stay addicted or are able to get out of it again.
The biggest factor that can help us out of this, is what we are nowadays lacking the most: connection. We are out of sync with connecting to ourselves, to our own bodies, practice “healthy selfishness” and develop and maintain healthy intimate and loving connections to others.
So looking at the video, the next question you might ask yourself is: “How do we get close to creating and joining something like ‘rat park’?”
When we shared the video on our Facebook page, it raised a lot of comments. Some people argued that the “rat park” study described in the video used the wrong rats or rats that didn’t like sugar or morphine in the first place or that rats in general should have nothing to do with humans.
However, we could forever look at all the scientific theories – the biological theory, the genetic theory, the environmental theory, nurture versus nature theory and all the other theories that have something to say about this. But the important thing is that it was illustrating a point.
The problem is always to rationalize, analyse and to try to “scientifically” prove things that are hard to prove. Of course it also comes down to individuality. We are all unique – genetically, neurologically, metabolically, biologically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally and physically… This idea can make us, and the scientists, more often than not feel out of control, as we cannot find the single one or two answers that can provide the one magic solution.
So in science, we narrow down our search, compartmentalise our inquiry into smaller aspects of scientific study – reduce it down to more manageable chunks. This is a well known “reductionist approach”, particularly in medical research and drug testing. But it doesn’t give us the full answer either. It is very difficult to design scientific studies that are able to deal with multiple variables at the level of human complexity in an effective way.
In the end it depends on the subjective experiencing of the individual.
How the individual perceives their world is what makes reality for them and the physicality of it.
What other people’s opinion or views about it – their addiction, their situation, their life from the outside (which may even ‘look perfect’) is or what they believe becomes completely irrelevant. This is where institutions and well meaning organisations can fail, as some recovery stragedies can be seen as just another thing that is put upon them by others.
It therefore becomes even more important to be able to join a person’s subjective internal world, to really aim to connect with them, and then work from within that.
In the case of people behaving in addictive ways, it is important that they are ready to change and want to be helped.
I guess that’s why I have my job as a psychotherapist. To help people find that for themselves, and what it means to them.
We learn that it comes back to addressing things from the inside out first.
And that can be very hard without support even for those who want to connect to themselves and others again. There may be underlying beliefs like they can’t or don’t have a right to or don’t deserve to have that connection.
As Lewis states, addiction is a learning and developmental process, it becomes a learnt habit. With the knowledge of neuroplasticity it can therefore be “unlearned” with the right conditions.
Assuming then that with the right external and internal conditions, there would be less of a need for anyone to have to create a reward boost in their brains or numb their feelings with substances. These reward boosts and good feelings would be created by natural substances (like endorphins and oxytocin) from love and connection to others as well as animals and nature.
But also to connect to ourselves is important in order to be able to connect to others authentically and in a grounded way. That often means that we need to learn to have self-compassion, self-acceptance, and empathy as well as forgiveness towards ourselves first, to also be able to give this to others.
Peltz believes that “addiction and recovery both begin with “selfishness”, and a wish to feel better and save oneself. Yet only through empathy and compassion can recovery be fully known and understood.” (p.90)
In the context of addiction, Peltz believes psychotherapy is the study of self-deceit and its motivations.
However, psychotherapy also aims to help us learn how to be aware of our emotions and be with our feelings, in a stable enough way to really connect with them. To help release them and express them honestly (to ourselves and others) and have them heard.
This is probably why with good psychotherapy we aim to work towards connection – the way we connect to self and others and the relationship between the two.
In Peltz’ opinion, mindfulness can be an effective alternative to this sort of reactive functioning (the addictive cycle) and to create connection. He sees mindfulness as having four main elements:
of the mind-body-process
in the present moment
Whether you believe addiction is a disease or not, addiction in the light of being an attachment disorder becomes then perhaps more of an “attachment to the way of operating in the world. The drug may not be the problem in itself, but our relationship to the drug as a means of escape. “ (Peltz, 2013).
Peltz believes that it is helpful to utilise somatic (body) focussing examples, similar to those, which I often use with my clients in sessions (pp.20):
Where in the body are you feeling this resentment (anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, craving)?
What is the quality of it?
Does it change as you pay attention to it?
Are there any other stories you are telling yourself about this?
This line of inquiry can be extended much more. This way of questioning is not for the purpose of feeling better immediately. It is more for the purpose of inquiry itself and starting the process to get a glimpse of what is going on inside. It is an inquiry of the present moment, of what it means to be in the now. It can help us understand the difference between living in the past (= often linked to depressive patterns), the future (= often linked to anxiety patterns) and the now.
Acceptance here does not mean to accept the problem or to have to live with it. But it also doesn’t help if you continue to beat yourself up again and again after you have tripped up – yet again. It’s more about ‘self-compassion’, empathy and forgiveness for yourself. Accepting that it is really hard to break the cycle and forming new habits and that you are trying your best. And to just keep going. Peltz calls it a “continuous meditation on the subject of acceptance”.
In his book he describes various exercises that may be useful, from deep breathing through to meditation and creating new behaviour cycles like “stopping – seeing – self-understanding – choosing”. Or in other words, becoming present, cultivating awareness, increase self-understanding and compassion, and as a result enhance our ability and capacity to chose (e.g. to repeat or not to repeat the cycle).
It is therefore possible to take some refuge in the present moment for some relief and to lay the foundations for enabling new habits.
Mindfulness can serve as a bridge in helping this process of “re-learning”.
In this way it can be a useful adjunct to additional psychotherapy support to help increase the effectiveness of your path to success.
We would love to hear from you how you have experienced addiction and the “re-learning” of it.
If you have any questions or would like any support, please get in touch with us.
Flores, P. (2011). Addiction as an Attachment Disorder. UK: Jason Aronson.
Hari, J. (2015). Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. UK: Bloomsbury.
Kathakis, A. (2012). Chapter 7: Best Practices for Addressing Attachment Injuries. In: Ferree, M. ed. Making Advances: A comprehensive guide for treating female sex and love addicts. USA: Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), pp. 188-214.
Lewis, M. (2015). The Biology of Desire: Why addiction is not a disease. Australia: Scribe.
Ogden, P. & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment. Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology. USA:W.W. Norton & Company; Cs med.
Peltz, L. (2013). The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery: A practical guide to regaining control over your life. USA: Shambala
Equine therapy has become an innovative approach for generating lasting change and can work well for corporate teams, families, couples or business partners and individuals, particularly when we reach places of stuckness. More research in this area is becoming available but it is still a new modality. In the coaching and therapy sector as well as business development it has become a useful innovative and solution-oriented way to overcome obstacles.
But why is this creative and experiential approach so helpful? How can it enable change so effectively?
Here are some of the top seven reasons of why horses can be so good at being enablers of change:
Reason 1: Horses Really Get You
They mirror our emotions. As prey animals, horses are very subtly attuned to their environment. They can mirror our emotions, even if they are unconscious. This can be helpful in one-to-one, couples and group work. In groups, the added team dynamics can be challenged more quickly to find solutions in an experiential and somatic way.
Reason 2: Horses Challenge You
Horses don’t care what we or others think of them. They give us immediate feedback. They can react to the most subtle changes in our emotions, energy and intention very quickly. No games. No lies. They live right in the moment and challenge us to do them same.
Reason 3: Horses Move You
We use different exercises that are physical and involve the whole body. It is amazing when people achieve moving a horse only with their energy or with pure thought, which sounds unbelievable but it happens! However, they will move us instead if we are not clear with our intentions and boundaries. They can also move us emotionally by being quite adamant and true to themselves in showing us what they feel and notice in the moment.
Reason 4: Horses Let You Experience
Equine therapy gets us outside of our homes and offices and back into ‘nature’. This type of work, compared with standard talking therapy approaches, is embodied and experiential. It uses the horses’ and our somatic intelligence (“body wisdom”) to explore and resolve what comes up to the surface during each session. Horses guide us to reconnect with ourselves in the moment and to be in the here and now, a crucial element when addressing depression and anxiety.
Reason 5: Horses Show You
We can’t fake it in front of horses. We can’t pretend, we can’t lie. It shows up in different ways and the horses show us this. The exercise may ‘not work’ or the horse may choose not to engage with you. Once we connect with our true feelings and emotions, once we learn to connect to our authentic self and become more congruent, the changes are immediately visible and the horse responds accordingly.
Reason 6: Horses Heal You
Being out in nature and with the horses can be very healing in itself. Horses help us physically in their different ways as outlined above. But they also help us emotionally and can give us “healing sessions” especially in the presence of past trauma. So many times we have witnessed horses literally “hugging” and holding a participant in moments of strong emotions and just stay with them, often for a very long time and in one case, for nearly the whole session. We often don’t know what is going on in those moments but we are careful to hold the space for both the horse(s) and the participant(s). Feedback from our clients after these kinds of moments is that they have usually experienced some huge shift and feel quite blown away.
Reason 7: Horses Transform You
Because equine therapy sessions utilise our somatic (body) intelligence and our whole being and how we relate to the world, we have time and time again received feedback about how transformative the session has been. Even a long time after the sessions transpired. We can become more aware of our state of mind and emotions. We understand boundaries on a “felt” and experiential level. We recognise how our body language, mental intention and our energy affects us and others around us. We can learn how to overcome obstacles and become more effective leaders or achieve our dreams. This new understanding we take back into our every day life.
Equine therapy can help address various issues including trauma, addictions, self-esteem, boundaries, relationship issues, identity issues, bereavement and loss, depression and anxiety. It can help us become more aware, encourage creative thinking and problem solving skills, increase assertiveness skills, motivation, confidence and resilience.
You may have more questions about how equine therapy works or how it could help you, so we would love to hear from you.
ADADSU has developed a comprehensive programme, called the Equine Assisted Somatic Intelligence (EASI) programmes, for individuals and groups that can address a variety of issues and goals. This also includes intensive programmes combining equine therapy with room-based therapy.
We are currently developing a new website that you can access here, so stay tuned!
At ADADSU, we understand that your time is precious and you may not be able to attend psychotherapy, counselling or coaching sessions at our London therapy clinics. With this in mind we now offer clients the choice of face-to-face or sessions conducted over appropriate online technologies. This may be via video, audio, email, chat or phone methods. It is interesting to us that there are still a number of myths surrounding online therapy that can put people off.
We thought we would address some of the concerns in order to put your mind at rest:
Myth 1 – Online therapy is not as effective as face-to-face sessions
In truth, you only get out of therapy or coaching what you are prepared to put in along with your therapist or coach. Online sessions can actually be more effective, convenient, stress free and economical as you don’t have to travel, or get stuck in traffic. Sessions can be arranged at a time to suit you in the comfort of your own home or chosen surroundings.
We are happy to work with you face-to-face or via online and we will help you find the best method that works best for you.
Myth 2 – You cannot build a relationship with a therapist online
Relationship building is key for any therapeutic relationship, in coaching or psychotherapy or counselling. Though it often seems easier when a relationship pre-exists, we have found that some people actually prefer to work online or over the phone as they felt safer and more comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings. We aim to have a face-to-face meetings at the beginning to work out if there is compatibility between both parties and if the relationship can be built online. We continually assess the effectiveness of the sessions, in person or online, and will together assess progress of our work at regular intervals.
Myth 3 – It’s harder to work in depth in online sessions
We have already conducted hundreds of hours via online or telephone sessions and found this not to be the case. We found ways of working that can make online and phone session as effective or even more so. It may require slightly different skills, focus and approaches to normal room-based training for therapists. Feedback from many of these clients has shown that it can feel often safer to be more open and honest in online/phone sessions with the therapist or coach as they are run from a place of safety to them. Whether that be at home or at work, if you are comfortable in your surroundings you are more likely to open up.
If we can see you visually and read your body language and expressions, or just auditory listen to your voice and intonation, a trained and skilled therapist or coach can pick up on things that require further attention. Similar to room-based work, we will work with you to get the most out of the sessions to meet your needs.
Myth 4 – It is easier to be distracted during online sessions
Whilst we agree you may get distracted if you are not 100% committed, any therapy or coaching session requires the dedication and motivation to change. It is important that you are in a private space. If other people live in your home it may be important to agree with them how they could support you with the space and time you need, or find alternative solutions. We also ask for other device, emails, and notifications to be switched off to limit any additional distractions and will help you keep the sessions on track.
Myth 5 – Online therapy is not secure
Online therapy can be secure. We will ask that the sessions be run from a room in which only you are present and that you are not in a public place or using a public network. Sessions are not recorded and we ask that you don’t use a public network like from coffee shops or libraries. We can discuss the most appropriate technology for you to use, if you are concerned about confidentiality.
Myth 6 – Internet connection issues are disruptive to the process
It is true that a good, fast Wi-Fi connection is helpful and in some cases required to ensure the sessions are successful but we can work with you on this. There may be ways to improve your existing connection without installing higher bandwidth rates, so do speak to us in case you have any questions about this.
We are sure there are a number of other questions you may have with regards to online therapy, counselling or coaching sessions – we would be delighted to hear your thoughts and help where we can to make it work for you.
Also see our latest eNews for more information and other benefits of online therapy and our online therapy page where we have added an interview with Irvin Yalom, renowned author and psychotherapist, on his evolving position on online therapy.
If you would like to find out more, contact us here.
We have recently started a new project to be added to ADADSU: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Leadership Coaching. We are so excited about its potential having just witnessed most transformative changes among therapists and other mental health professionals on recent training days. This innovative and efficient way of working will soon be part of our services on offer, so stay tuned!
Though other animals have been utilised to facilitate psychotherapeutic work, horses are unique as they are herd and prey animals. As such they are very attuned to their surroundings and are able to pick up the subtlest energies in the herd and in the environment, crucial to their survival out in the wild.
Because of this ability, they can be very affected by energies (positive or negative) and immediately reflect this through their body language and their behaviour. This can be very useful in the psychotherapeutic work, where the emotional or mental state of mind of the client can be picked up by the horse and mirrored back. This is helpful as it can point out unresolved issues and areas that require further work. It is this ability that can reduce the time spent in the usual way of talking therapies, where many resistances and defences come into play.1
In the workplace, for teamwork and leadership coaching, horses can be equally effective at exposing common problems or weaknesses within the team dynamics. Is the team leader effective at having willing followers that create efficient and effective teams which people are happy to be a part of? Are the team members rebellious or finding it difficult to trust in the abilities or congruence of the team leader? Are there other challenges within the team dynamics? The horses can show, with astounding clarity and in a gentle non-judgemental way, where the issues lie. This allows for a more positive way to approach change and improvement to help teams become more effective and productive when working together.2
How Does it Work?
Lara with her horse Rio
There are various ways of working with clients that involve the horse or horses in the therapeutic process. This can be by way of specific exercises that help streamline, as well as provide structure to the creative unfolding and the emergent nature of the experiential process.
For example, one of the exercises we were asked to do was to choose a horse that would accompany us through our “life journey”. There were different obstacles in the outdoor arena that were to represent key obstacles we had experienced in our lives. This reminded me of aspects from Gestalt therapy work or Time Line Therapy techniques used in NLP.3 A second horse was also a part of the process and was loose and free to interact in the process at any time. The aim of not interpreting but using all our senses and the horses’ behaviours to observe what happens in the here-and-now, often serves as metaphorical representations of our thoughts, emotions, memories and behaviour patterns with the ability to create meaning for each individual. This multi-dimensional metaphorical experiencing reminded me of my Clean Language4 and metaphor therapy training, just without the additional aspect of utilising the subtle wisdom of horses. To some extent, utilising additional participants (in this case horses) in the process also reminded me of Family Constellations work, which comparatively seems a little harder and more complex to do with humans, due to the added projections and resistances that are possible to interfere in the flow.5
For me, the overall experience was extremely powerful and emotive. Though it was not surprising which areas showed up for me, it was the emotional charge and strength that surprised me. This was particularly enlightening as I thought that some of these areas had already been dealt with in my own regular therapy. As psychotherapists we are encouraged to be in therapy not only as part of our training but also to ensure we continue to remain effective therapists for our clients. It made me aware of some of my own potential blind spots, the strength of existing resistances and how to utilise subtle embodied wisdom more intuitively. I saw many images and symbols in my mind’s eye that evoked strong feelings and this seemed to coincide with the horses’ behaviour in a very metaphorical way.
Leigh Shambo explains this type of experience in neuroscientific terms, with its similarity between our human emotional brains and that of a horse’s brain. Horses can be incredibly adept in mirroring our true underlying emotions, and as a result, it is difficult to hide our fears and pretences, therefore non-judgementally encouraging us towards more congruence and authenticity with ourselves. Because this type of learning is fully experiential, neural connections and pathways can be newly established integrating this knowledge in an embodied way. It is thought that this allows for a faster intuitive ‘recall’ of this learning that is then transferable into our day-to-day lives. This in turn can create more sustainable and effective positive change.6
What we found most extraordinary was not just our own personal and emotional responses to the work with the horses, but also those of the witnessing group. Even though we were a group of seven strangers, we were all very touched and resonated deeply with each other’s experiences with the horses.
Where to Find Good Training?
There are currently limited training providers in the UK and we have managed to review a few. It is difficult for mental health professionals to choose the right training, since this type of work is still relatively new and not yet regulated. We feel that LEAP in the UK provides a very professional, safe and contained environment, while also having the mental and physical wellbeing of their private herd at the heart of the therapeutic work.7 They are endorsed by and are an organisational member of The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) and adhere to the BACP Code of Ethics.
The other already well established international association that provides a well-respected and structured training certification programme is the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA)8 and Pointon published an article about her experience of a UK course in 2005.9
We are excited to start the full certification course later this year bringing this additional innovative service to ADADSU. Since the emotional and physical health and welfare of our horses is paramount to us, we are currently in the process of finding land that allows for the most natural environment and living conditions for the herd. We are looking to collaborate with experts in the field to make this a sustainable as well as a best practice centre utilising and contributing to latest research in the field. We will keep you updated of our progress – so do stay tuned or contact us for more information.