The Horse As A Powerful Therapeutic Modality

Yalom (1985) writes that the major impetus for learning is the therapy group. The structure of the group is a microcosm of the patient's cultural world. Through repeated experiences in the group, group members learn about interpersonal relations. Feedback from the group and observation allows interpersonal relations to reach higher levels. Through this process group members learn repeatedly that part of their former perception of themselves is distorted. Yalom (1985) holds the view that insight and transference have less therapeutic value than the "corrective emotional experience" of the authentic interpersonal reciprocal relations taking place in the group.

In this group supervision workshop, we use the horse as a powerful therapeutic modality. We use the unique characteristics that are experienced in the relation between the rider and the horse. Emotions directly influence the body and the horse senses the rider through the tension of his or her muscles, the posture of the rider, the way the hands hold the reins, and the overall communication the rider has with the horse. The horse interprets these multiple cues immediately and gives immediate feedback to the rider. This immediate response forces the rider to respond within a very short time, measured in seconds, in order to get what he or she wants from the horse. All this produces authentic behavior patterns on the part of the rider, and affects the issues of control, giving trust, and the capability of devotion.

During group work we make use of the sensitivity of the horse and the herd model "as a model for copying and communication by the members of the group who have closed ranks as a 'herd' around mutual aims" (Cohen & Lifshitz, 2005, p. 86). The "herd" elects a leader and acts in accordance with social codes that resemble to a great extent the communications between humans: they obey the leader, tend to play, attach importance to their private domain, communicate with the horses close to them, and when they are not answered they respond with threats and even with violence (Morris, 1991). These characteristics resemble what Bion (1992) wrote regarding human social relations.

The group experience is intensified via the relations between the individuals in the herd. The therapists are the leaders of the group and the herd. Since the horse is an animal that serves as prey it needs the protection of the herd; and it needs a leader as a shield and one who makes decisions for everyone. The individual rider represents for the horse both part of the herd and a personal leader. It expects the rider to lead it and is very dependant on the messages received from the rider.

The link created between the rider and the horse and between members of the group gives us a miniature picture of the interpersonal relations and provides insights into intrapersonal life.

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