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 nature and nurturance of a out of the office therapy setting including a horse ranch 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. Our clients, were previously considered “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.
Humanizing Therapy: A Gentle Collective Participation to Heal
Now I See A Person participates with vulnerable and hopeless populations who did not find prior success but who became unfortunately more hopeless in their search for alleviation of symptoms, trauma and suffering. (Nepustil & Swim, 2022 & Swim, Abramovitch, Mackintosh, & Buickians, 2022).
From 2007 to 2020, we primarily combined horses and nature with Collaborative-Dialogical Practices and embraced people’s communities to co-create new possibilities and options to live without symptoms, and collectively create nurturing and sustainable change when change had been hopeless. From 2020 to current we provide therapeutic services that we call Out of the Office using nature and around horses, in people’s gardens, and on telehealth. Our time with the horses helped us to humanize ourselves with our clients and supported our caring work in other venues.
We view mental wellness through systemic lenses for over four decades. We include who is important to the members and this may include legal mandated participants, particular family members or others who can be of support. Our clients heal and shed severe mental illness labels. Being a person and not a label reflects normalcy and people grow to see themselves as people who had trauma, symptoms, suffered and healed (Swim, 2021).
Jaakko Seikklula (Barnes, 2022) currently writes regarding how severe symptoms and suffering are coping mechanisms. Once they no longer see themselves as a mental illness label but as being a person they flourish. Suicidal ideation or psychosis ceases. Families reunite. Most of the people we see redesign their lives such as finding their purpose in life; going off to college or creating preferred lives regardless of their suffering or age. They were perhaps too overwhelmed with suffering to have had an opportunity to do so previously.