How does Heads & Tails work?
Heads & Tails Equine Assisted Clinical Psychology works alongside horses as co-facilitators to assist children, adolescents and families in understanding feelings, relationships and behaviours. It is a solution-orientated approach, believing that the client knows what answers are best for them (EAGALA, 2009). It is a team approach, where the Clinical Psychologist and the Equine Specialist work together with the client in all sessions. Mounted sessions are not required as our work at Head and Tails is a ground-based activity. Our clients work with miniature horses, which are less intimidating for work with children and adolescents.
Horses have many characteristics which lend them to being effective agents of change, including honesty, awareness, and use of nonverbal communication. The role of the horse in Equine Assisted Therapy is for the horse to behave naturally and spontaneously, as they do in a herd situation. The horse’s natural state of being invites our clients to engage in a safe and authentic connection, a space where change is possible.
Our work focuses on allowing our clients, through their connection and communication with the horses, to experiment, problem-solve and be creative. Through this process we build awareness, understanding of self, understanding of self in relationship, and a capacity to generate flexible and healthy responses to life’s situations and challenges. Through this process clients find their own solutions that apply to their everyday needs and experiences.
What happens in a session?
During a session, the Clinical Psychologist and the Equine Specialist will observe the responses of both the horse in connection with the client, and the client in connection with the horse during activities. The Equine Specialist chooses which horses will partake in the sessions and works alongside the Clinical Psychologist in planning and structuring each session. Each session is tailored to a client’s individual needs and takes into account the treatment goals and presenting issues. Activities involving the client, horses and props represent explorations of real life situations, these providing an opportunity for the client to experience emotions and behaviours and increase self-awareness & understanding. Instruction from the treatment team helps guide the client in creating activities that will encourage metaphors for experiences in their own life, creating opportunities for positive growth and development.
Who can benefit from equine therapy?
Equine Assisted Clinical Psychology has been successfully applied to psychological work with children, adolescents and families. Research outcomes support this intervention as a valid method to learn about and understand personal emotions, develop empathy and a sense of responsibility, increase problem solving skills, trust, boundary setting, and group cohesion. This type of therapeutic intervention addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioural issues, developmental and neurological disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, trauma, depression, anxiety, relationship issues and communication difficulties. Example, a study of 164 at-risk children and adolescents who participated in 12 Equine Assisted Therapy sessions, found significant improvements in 17 behaviour areas including social stress, self esteem, hyperactivity, conduct problems and aggression (EAGALA).
A horse can change the way you see the world.
We acknowledge and appreciate the power of horses and their ability to help us tap into our feelings, behaviours and capabilities. As herd animals that have worked in partnership with humans for thousands of years, horses are responsive to human emotion and actions. They respond to what we do and how we feel. They are honest and non judgmental. They know if you mean what you say, and as such, challenge people to be authentic. These attributes give important feedback to the treatment team when observing the horse interact with the client and vice versa.
In inviting and challenging people to be respectful and authentic in relationship with them, horses provide immediate feedback to the client, and can create great metaphors for discussion or activities. This effectively assists clients to take responsibility for their emotions, decisions, actions and choices and make meaningful changes in session and in life.