Now I See a Person Institute (NISAPI) is a non-profit teaching and clinical institute devoted to helping people achieve a complete and sustainable recovery by pairing the normalcy of a horse ranch and the nurturance of horses with a philosophy of postmodern collaborative practice. Here, people are seen as who they are as persons rather than their diagnoses, and we identify and nurture the inherent positive strengths and self-agency of each client and family member to facilitate their journey of healing. All of our clients are “high risk” individuals who have lost hope after previous therapy, medication, or hospitalization and/or who have been considered unchangeable by previous mental health providers.
In 2007, I received an email from a colleague that talked about doing therapy with horses. That gave me an idea, and at the urging of my international colleagues, I decided to open a postmodern institute where I could practice therapy, teach, do research, and supervise clinicians as I had previously done for decades in Texas. So, I brought all my current master’s level students and a handful of PhDs from the university to a horse ranch in Chatsworth, California, and we created the Now I See A Person Institute (NISAPI): Healing Under Served Populations Using Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model (CEACRM).
The name as well as the philosophy of our new nonprofit emerged from the experiences of one of my young students. She had told me during a practicum session, “I hate my client,” and I was surprised she felt safe enough to use those words. I recalled the words of collaborative therapy pioneers Harry Goolishian and Tom Anderson, who said, “When we do not like our clients, it has to do with us as a therapist, and not a client, we were holding prejudice to our clients….”
In the next practicum session, I asked the student how things were going with this client that she did not like. And she said, “The client I hated is now my most beloved.” I replied, “Let’s get this on tape.” For the next hour and a half, the class learned about this student’s journey. During her interview, she kept repeating that for the first time in 10 sessions, she had left the treatment plans, diagnosis, and progress notes outside the door and walked in with an open heart. And for the first time, she saw a “person” in front of her. She did not see the treatment plan, which was hers, not the client’s, and she could understand the pain and suffering that the client was going through.
It is amazing what happens when therapist and client both see each other as people. A collaborative relationship evolves wherein the client takes charge – sometimes for the first time of their treatment and lives.
To facilitate this collaborative relationship at NISAPI, we created an egalitarian environment where diagnosis is transcended, people are seen as honored guests, and everyone wears boots and jeans. The horse ranch setting provides normalcy and nurturance from the moment a client arrives. When coming onto the ranch, they meet and engage with the entire team of therapists –both human and equine.