I was very lucky to be able to attend a weekend of training with Dr Veronica Lac around Gestalt Equine Therapy at the stunning Rainbow Horses in Barkestone.
Dr Lac has publications such as: Amy's Story: An Existential-Integrative Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy Approach to Anorexia Nervosa and Equine-Assisted Therapy as a Creative Relational Approach to treating clients with Eating Disorders. She has also recently completed her PhD looking at The Embodied Presence of Gestalt Equine Therapy - I cannot wait to read the book when it comes out!
I have long been interested in Gestalt therapy and can see a real synchronicity between its theoretical orientation and the practical work within equine therapy.
Veronica described the three main tenets of Gestalt therapy as:
Here and now
What and How
I will go into my reflections on this in this blog post.
Here and now - relates to the idea that everything that we do/experience/are only exists in the present moment. We need to pay attention to the interactions in here and now in the therapy session and how someone's story plays out in the present moment; not what led to that, but how is it showing up in the present moment. The human is said to be the only animal that believes the stories that we tell ourselves. This is where we can perhaps learn from equine relationships. How do horses care for themselves? Do they get caught up in whether a horse who has turned away from them likes them or not? How can we apply this to our lives?
What and how - relates to what is happening in the moment and how is it impacting on the present moment. This references phenomenology - the study of lived experience, what is going on, what is being experienced and how we experience it. As a therapist. we may question what the client may be experiencing whilst describing their physical experience, but it is important that we 'bracketing' off our interpretation as a therapist in order to allow the client to discover and describe from their experience. It may be appropriate to reflect back - "when I heard that, I felt" - but the initial description has to come from client in order to facilitate their growing awareness. The relational feedback from the horses can give us some insight into how clients are feeling in a more safe, and less threatening way than in room based sessions.
I - thou - this relationship is placed in centre of gestalt therapy as a framework for how to develop relationships. This relates to a sense of presence and being with, honouring the relationship with the other as a being rather than object. When we are in relationships we can approach other as something that we are disconnected from - I-it - or can recognise them as existing alongside ourselves and honour that being - I-thou. Moment of connection rather than something that can/should be sustained. Veronica highlighted the work of Ruella Frank here - I see you see me, I feel you feel me. The aim of the therapy is to provide a safe space where those moments can happen and enter relationship with attitude of I-thou awareness of honouring them as a being in their own right. This also relates to the horses as beings in their own right, with the relationship with the horses also as an I-thou rather than I-it relationship. In this sense, the horse is not a mirror to our behaviour, this would make the relationship more I-it - the horse may reflect the energy that we bring, but this is more a more conscious process than simply being a 'mirror', or 'object'.