Founded in 1999, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) is the leading international nonprofit association for professionals incorporating horses to address mental health and personal development needs. EAGALA’s vision is that every person worldwide will have access to these therapy services known as Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy.
There are now over 700 EAGALA programs, with professionals trained and certified through EAGALA, providing services helping change the lives of people with a diverse range of struggles such as street children in Mexico and South Africa, those suffering from addictions, depression and trauma, and improving relationships in families and groups. EAGALA has over 4,500 members in 50 countries.
The focus of Horses Help Heal, Inc is to work with healing addictions and trauma through equine-assisted psychotherapy, especially with those who cannot individually pay for these services.
Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) are experiential approaches designed to help clients identify, face and work through life issues. Clients dealing with mental health issues that are often dealt with in traditional counseling practices, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief, addiction and behavior modification, may be excellent candidates for EAP. Horses Help Heal, Inc. is focused on healing through Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy.
EAL is similar to EAP, but the focus is more toward education and skill enhancement. EAL programs often focus on social skills and leadership and team development. EAL is very useful when working with groups from schools or businesses. There are several organizations in Northern Colorado that provide Equine-Assisted Learning.
Eagala therapists use a different approach from therapeutic horsemanship programs in that the Eagala clients do not ride. In fact, the horses play a completely different role in the therapeutic process. The goal of EAP and EAL is for clients to interact with horses from the ground, observe the horses’ reactions to them and then identify ways these reactions could be metaphors that represent something real in the client’s life.
Is it possible for horses to represent something in the client’s private life? The answer is found in the nature of horses. Horses are very intuitive creatures that possess an acute sense of awareness to everything going on in their environment. They are extremely sensitive to the actions of humans and have the uncanny ability to understand our non-verbal behavior. Horses are completely honest in the way they react to situations. They do not lie or react to spare anyone’s feelings.
The EAGALA Model establishes a foundation of key values and beliefs, and provides a basis of good practice and professionalism for the EAGALA trained therapist and equine specialist. EAGALA provides a framework of practice, but within that framework, there are infinite opportunities for creativity and adaptability to various therapeutic and facilitating styles.
The most distinctive features of the EAGALA model are as follows:
• The Team Approach – A Mental Health Professional, an Equine Specialist, and a Horse work together with a client in an EAGALA-based session.
• Focus on the ground – No horseback riding is involved. Instead, effective and deliberate techniques are utilized where the horses reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the client.
• Solution-Oriented – The basis of the EAGALA Model is a belief that all clients have the best solutions for themselves when given the opportunity to discover them. Rather than instructing or directing solutions, clients are encouraged to experiment, problem-solve, take risks, employ creativity, and find their own solutions that work best for them.
• Code of Ethics – EAGALA has high standards of practice and ethics and a protocol for upholding these standards, ensuring best practices and the highest level of care for our clients.
• The Horse – Horses have characteristics which lend them to being effective agents of change, including honesty, awareness, and ability to communicate non-verbally. The role of the horse in an EAGALA session is to be a horse.
• The Mental Health Professional or Therapist must be appropriately licensed and is responsible for treatment planning, documentation of clients, and ensuring ethical practice. The therapist builds on the Equine Specialist’s horse observations, bringing in the metaphoric and therapeutic relevance of the session.
• The Equine Specialist chooses the horses to be used in sessions, works with the Therapist to structure sessions, keeps an equine log to document horse behaviors in sessions, stays aware of safety and welfare of clients, horses, and team, and makes observations of horse behavior, which can bring in potential healing metaphors.
Clients are happy to have the team to work with and rarely object to having another person, the equine specialist, involved in sessions. Of course, the horse is considered an integral part of the team.
For more information, check out the EAGALA website: www.eagala.org.