This is the fourth and last installment in a series I wrote on trauma. The inspiration came from Bessel van der Kolk’s “Four Concrete Steps for Working with Trauma”. Read the first three articles here: http://www.instituteforeap.com/blog.
The fourth step, “Integrate the Senses Through Rhythm”, is extremely powerful and sometimes challenging for a regular talk therapist to do with a client. In Gestalt Equine Assisted Psychotherapy we have many ways to incorporate rhythm into sessions. The obvious one is mounted work which is amazing and definitely healing, and honestly deserves a whole article which I will write soon. But sometimes a client is not ready or willing to ride, and even though we do a lot of mounted work at The Institute, I’d like to speak to other options.
Horses know and appreciate rhythm. It's part of every gait, and even a horse swatting flies out in the pasture will move his tail with rhythm. When we work with horses, whether it is grooming, or lunging them, keeping a steady rhythm, is speaking their language.
One way to create this experience for a client could be doing groundwork. After the client establishes contact with her equine partner, she could work on teaching or asking the horse to disengage his hindquarters using rhythm. This could be done with swinging a rope or tapping his hind with a dressage whip. You’ll notice that most client’s will be challenged by keeping a steady rhythm and you may need to support them in this. You can suggest using other body parts to help stay consistent, like tapping a foot, or counting out loud. If possible, adding music to this can be helpful and also add a fun element.
"Put one organism in rhythm with other organisms and is a way of overcoming this frozen sense of separation that traumatized people have with others"- Bessel van der Kolk
Rhythm is a way to connect, to feel a part of, to become fully aware of how you move and who you are in relation to others. It is the final piece in once again becoming whole.
For more support or questions, please contact us. We offer webinar and on location trainings as well as supervision and mentoring.
To learn more about horsemanship and using rhythm to work with your horses, check out Lindsey Partridge (pictured above), winner of the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover with her beautiful mare Soar. Lindsey has a great webinar training and will also be at Crystal Lake Farm in Maine on August 5th, sign up here.
Step 3: Help Your Patients Learn to Express Their Inner Experience
This is the third step in trauma treatment from Bessel van der Kolk’s Four Concrete Steps for Working with Trauma. “Help your patients learn to express their inner experience”.
This is where treatment starts to come together in my opinion. The first two steps are vital for this to happen; having experienced self-regulation and exploring self-empowerment. Without these tools, your inner world could be frightening and sometimes impossible to touch. It is our jobs as professionals to be aware of where are client are at and their ability to manage what comes up. Without the first two parts, it is easy to retraumatize and cause harm. If your client begins to experience his trauma, it is imperative that you help him stay in contact with you. No closing their eyes or turning away, make them stay with you. Have them touch their horse, feel warmth, or something similar.
The relationship with their equine partner is a great place to begin to connect with their inner experience and express what they feel. At the Institute we practice Gestalt EAP, which means we work in the present moment and create experiments to assist our client in experiencing themselves in relationship to another. For example, if you have a victim of sexual abuse, and you notice that his horse partner is constantly in his bubble, you could do an experiment instructing him to stand very close to his horse, taking a breath and becoming aware of what he is feeling in his body. Then taking a few steps back and noticing if anything changed. It is important that your client is in relationship with her horse as this unfolds, otherwise, the horse becomes an “it” or as some people say “a tool”.
Please note, this is vastly different from having your client do an exercise and then speaking about it afterwards. Our goals at the Institute is to assist our clients in being in their bodies, feeling their emotions and being able to experience security as the stay in consistent relationship with others and their environment.
Advice: If your client is having a difficult time connecting to his horse, it is helpful to do some exercises with him, focused on connecting with you, the facilitator.
For support or questions, contact The Institute for EAP. We offer mentorship, supervision, web based and on location trainings.
Asa Woodman is the founder of the Institute for Equine Assisted Practices and a passionate student of life.