Healing With The Horses
No horses are ridden. No horses are physically used. Instead horses create a therapeutic backdrop of natural, nurturing, and healing relationships within conversation formed between clients’ and their therapists’. Clients and therapists conversations evolve naturally and organically around horses and witnessing horse activity. As such the horse is an impetus to aide in the therapeutic process. We see clients as “knowers” of their extreme hardships, co-developers of the therapeutic conversation, and co-directors of how and when change occurs. Therapy at NISAPI is a client-led endeavor and clients take ownership of therapy and strength in the change they co-create with our team. At Now I See A Person Institute (NISAPI) clients and therapist become people with one common goal. The goal is in the resolution of the “problems” or challenges or symptoms of the client or clients. Once a relationship of mutual trust ensues solutions happen and continue to occur through the duration of therapy. We find the horses aid to enhance the creation of trust, nurturance, and proficiency within the therapeutic relationship.
“To facilitate this collaborative relationship we create an egalitarian environment where diagnosis is transcended, people are listened to 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. . The horses – an original family plus additional rescues – are active co-therapists. Each client and therapist bonds to a particular horse, and all bond to the environment focused on listening, caring, and co-creating change tailored to the individual client. We call what we do Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model, CEACRM. As in Open Dialogue, the clients are seen with members of their community—family members and/or mandated social workers and lawyers— rather than individually, and rich conversations emerge among all parties. We view clients and their families as the experts in their lives and believe they have the strength and answers within themselves; it is merely our role to listen intently and honor their stories. Through this collaboration, real hope and sustainable change emerge. And, as the clients begin to see themselves as people and not a diagnosis, so do others.
All sessions take place in front of the horses. Horses are relational animals who naturally live in herds and everyone that comes to the ranch is part of that herd. This provides a backdrop where conversations are actions of everyday life, where some themes are more urgent than others but where all discourse represents human-to-human interaction rather than therapist-client interaction. Too, horses have the natural gift of experiencing people as they are within the present moment. Through the eyes of a horse there is no prejudice, no judgment, no psychological jargon. One can imagine how much easier it is to talk about traumatic events such as sexual abuse, or seeing a parent murdered, while petting and hugging your favorite horse. We witness how people connect to the horses and then connect to themselves and others, becoming hopeful about new possibilities. For example, one woman who had been in violent relationships and had lost hope gained feelings of power and confidence when she became able to engage with Jack (the biggest horse); we’ve seen a parent and child’s relationship soften after viewing love expressed between Theresa (a mother horse) and Oliver (her foal).
We feel our journey with our clients results in becoming what we like to call “Extraordinarily Normal.” The narratives of pain and suffering they begin with are transformed into conversations honoring their innate strengths, resiliency, hope for the future, and other themes that are Extraordinarily Normal. These themes include new ways to live daily life: building relationships, celebrating when days go well and problem solving when they do not.
We have been conducting qualitative research for 10 years now, which reflects most of our clients transform and lose their deficiency labels as well as find joy in Extraordinary Normalness. All the research points to seeing and treating our clients as human beings and not an illness leads to complete and sustainable recovery. https://www.madinamerica.com/2022/11/shedding-the-limits-of-severe-mental-illness-labels/
Walk and Talk Therapy at the Ranch or in our Satellite Facilities
Walk-and-talk therapy is an approach to therapy that has gained considerable attention as a result of the availability of information about the positive mental and physical benefits associated with exercise. A growing body of research supports this as a promising approach that may be more beneficial in some cases than talk therapy alone. Our goal is to create an environment that genuinely honors and values the client and their narratives and life experiences, where the strengths of our clients can abound, and hope becomes a reality. We do this by listening to our clients’ narratives, speaking honestly and caringly to co-create trust and humility between us, and re-design goals for sustainable change.
By practicing these values with our clients, our clients often experience change within a brief period of time, often within the first session of treatment. Our research reflects hope and concrete ideas for change to occur in the first sessions.
In this approach, the therapist and client engage in dialogue as they are walking in a natural outdoor setting. We find with our clients that this approach reduces the level of anxiety and fear of judgment that many clients may experience when entering a more clinical setting. The informal, open environment promotes a sense of freedom and fosters an almost immediate connection with the therapist based on an open relational exchange. Thus, clients are more easily able to engage in difficult discussions about the problems they are facing.*
* For an interesting article by WebMD about Walk-and-Talk Therapy and how it is being used around the country, please go to http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/walk-and-talk-therapy
Out of the Office with Telehealth or home visits
NISAPI also offers telehealth or home visits. Working alongside the horses has provided us with insight in how to try and provide and mirror nurturing spaces wherever we work.