When thinking of a subject for my research project, I pondered the notion of reflexivity; I wanted to choose a topic that was about a central part of my life, something I was curious about. Soros (2009) proposed the two aspects of reflexivity are understanding the world in which we live (the cognitive function) and our ability to change this to our advantage (the manipulative function), and I believe that we all, unknowingly, participate in this process each and every day. We are all curious about many things each day; things we have seen, heard or done, and often try to understand and even change these things, which is the exact premise of reflexivity. So, in relation to my research proposal, I immediately pondered what the most central part of my life was, and the answer was horses.
Riding and owning horses from a young age, I have grown up around these animals and have learnt to read and interpret their body language and ways of communication. Forming a bond between horse and handler is an intricate process, and when formed, it becomes a calm and familiar connection. I have always been curious about the effect animals have on people and the connection that forms from this, so deciding on a topic was easy, and I chose equine assisted therapy. From this, I did some research, and finally came up with a primary question:
How effective is equine assisted therapy in the treatment of psychological trauma?
For this question, I will be using primarily academic sources, such as journal articles, reports and studies, to assess and discuss the use of horses in therapy for those with psychological impacts resulting from trauma either as a child or an adult. I have a range of sources outlining the use of Equine Facilitated Therapy (EFT) in a range of psychological trauma circumstances, including trauma resulting from sexual abuse (especially in children and adolescents) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (especially in war veterans).
In recent years, animal assisted therapies have been an increasingly accepted and popular form of psychotherapy – especially Equine Assisted Therapies. Horses are prey animals, which means they are more attuned to their environment; what is going on around them and who is in front of them. This means that it is up to the handler to calm and make the horse feel secure, and entails a calm and confident attitude as horses are able to read the emotions of their handler and feed off these. Research conducted in the studies and reports I have found, and as observed by psychotherapists, many patients feel validation and empowerment as a result of handling a horse as part of psychotherapy.
For background and report research, I have analysed news articles and interviews, alongside academic reports, journals and studies from around the world to show a broad range of cases in which EFT can be used, and has been successful. These reports also include data document the outcomes and how well this therapy has worked, usually alongside counselling or psychotherapy.
To conduct my research, I will be using this range of information to investigate just how effective Equine Facilitated or Assisted Therapy is to treat trauma, and plan to do this through asking, and answering, a variety of questions, including:
- When EFT is compared to psychotherapy, is there an obvious difference in success rates?
- Is the treatment effective in the long-term or is it a short-term solution?
- Is EFT a viable and successful treatment on its own, or does it have to coincide with psychotherapy?
- What benefits does EFT have for the patient, both short and long term?
- Is the treatment more effective on a particular age group?
From my readings, I can discern that patients from a range of social, racial and age groups have been studied, with some studies focusing specifically on certain groups or ethnicities and comparing these against each other to show the differences, if any, and therefore examine the efficacy of EFT in patients of different backgrounds and age groups.
Overall, the aim of my research project will be to determine the effectiveness of Equine Assisted Therapy for patients with psychological trauma. This is a breakthrough therapy that is gaining momentum, with many positive aspects that could change the standard psychotherapy process for the future.
Yorke, J. 2003, ‘The therapeutic value of the equine-human relationship in recovery from trauma: A qualitative analysis’, Masters thesis, Wilfrid Laurer University, Waterloo, Ontario.
Wilson, K.A. 2012, ‘Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy as an Effective Therapy in Comparison to or in Conjunction with Traditional Therapies’, Honors thesis, University of Central Florida, Cocoa, Florida.
Kirby, M. 2010, ‘Gestalt Equine Psychotherapy’, Gestalt Journal of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 60-68
Earles, J.L, Vernon, L.L, Yetz, J.P 2015, ‘BRIEF REPORT: Equine-Assisted Therapy for Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms’, Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 149-152
PR, N 2011, ‘EAGALA Military Services Launches Helping Veterans, Active Military, their Families, and Families of the Fallen Combat PTSD, Trauma, and Behavioral Challenges Through Equine Assisted Therapy’, PR Newswire US, 7 September, Regional Business News, EBSCOhost, viewed 27 March 2016.
Earles, JP 2015, ‘Equine-Assisted Therapy for Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms’, Journal Of Traumatic Stress, 28, 2, pp. 149-152, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 25 March 2016.
Kemp, KK 2014, ‘Equine Facilitated Therapy with Children and Adolescents Who Have Been Sexually Abused: A Program Evaluation Study’, Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 23, 3, pp. 558-566, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 25 March 2016.
Goodyer, P 2015, ‘Equine therapy: horse power that heals’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March, viewed 28 March 2016
Bock, A. 2014, ‘Psychotherapy turns to horses to help people open up’, The Age Victoria, 1 March, viewed 28 March 2016