At Epona Brae, Dr Traci practises both traditional clinical psychological therapy as Coventry Psychology, and Equine Assisted Psychological therapy.
For useful links check the FAQ page.
Equine Assisted Psychological Therapy is relatively new to Australia despite the success of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy programs overseas. It is not therapy on horses but with horses!
To reach a true capacity for connectedness with the self, other people and other beings — in particular horses — it is essential to develop an awareness of one’s emotions and intellectual and physiological experiences while in contact. The experiential nature of “learning while doing” takes what occurs in standard clinical sessions one step beyond. It allows for the development and exploration of the awareness that underlies true connection and authenticity.
Rather than focussing on the cognitive processing of the experience, the focus is on the experience itself. This is a new and valuable adjunct to clinical psychotherapy.
Horses are non-judgmental, innately social, fair creatures that are predisposed by their very nature to engage with other beings. They offer patients an opportunity to interact and engage that is safe, completely untainted by pre-conceptions based on on appearances and social status. Patients do not have to fear being judged, rejected or critiqued. The paddock is a safe place to experiment.
In an equine therapy session, working with one or more horses in a safe and supportive environment, the patient is able to develop an awareness of their emotional, psychological and physiological processes through real life experience and contact.
Working with horses can also help traumatised patients that are not ready yet to discuss their experiences or non verbal patients to begin the healing process without needing to talk. With better insights and self understanding comes the potential for change and growth.
Horses in this type of therapy are free to act and react to the client’s emotional state or the situation, to mirror emotions, or to model behaviours and processes as they choose. Once emotions arise, the practitioner can support the client to understand their unique patterns and triggers, and provide an opportunity to work on ways to manage issues in real time with the horses that will generalise to life, outside of therapy.
Equine Assisted Psychological Therapy can trigger powerful emotions and psychological reactions for the patient. Consequently, it is key that this work be conducted by a qualified psychotherapist or psychologist, certified in this form of therapy, to help guide the therapy process safely and effectively.
Dr. Traci works together with patients to find where their fear is coming from. Is it a genuine fear of horses? Or is it masking a different kind fear? Fear of relationship, fear of not having control, fear of being rejected, etc… Instead of a roadblock, fear becomes an opportunity for the patient to examine the root cause of their anxiety or trauma. Psychological Assisted Equine Therapy allow patients to learn how to identify, desensitize and de-trigger scary situations and use these skills in their everyday lives to gain or regain a sense of joy in living.
It is important for patients to know that developing the connection with the horses is done at their own pace, it is not forced upon them. There is no anxiety generating “have-to’s. Instead, there is a flxible and progressive process that can start with simply observing the horses in the paddock from across the fence then move on to feeding carrots, to grooming the horses. Eventually as patients grow comfortable and confident being around and with the horses, they are able to incorporate horse haltering and handling, collaborative groundwork exercises and even riding under the close supervision of Dr. Traci and Equestrian Facilitated Learning Practitioner Marie Kukowski.
Before meeting the horses, Dr. Traci prepares patients for what to expect using grounding and breathing techniques. There are several horses at Epona Brae and Dr. Traci provides match-making services based on her experience. However, this is a flexible process since how we form connections is intensely personal and often, a patient and a horse will choose each other, and gravitate towards one another. This form of therapy is a triad rather than a dyad and while Dr. Traci guides and keeps her patients safe, she also knows when to step back and observe. It is important for patients to know that the Epona Brae horses are not tools or toys but Dr. Traci’s co-therapists. They are spontaneous and without agendas and how they react to patients offers valuable insights and opportunities. However, their actions cannot be predicted which is why working with an experienced equine psychologist is critical.
Humans take into relationships their own predictions, and process relationships subconsciously. Everyone carries baggage and it gets unpacked when you work with the horse whether we love and are comfortable with them or not. The difference is that with horses the connection is authentic, spontaneous and in real life. While it sounds very bucolic and even playful, in reality, this form of therapy is not about just hanging in the paddock, it is about mindfully and deliberately creating a connection and engaging with the horse. Patients are empowered through activity and sensory cues (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight).
While this work is about healthy self esteem and learning to accept and love oneself it is also about developing practical and coping skills such as setting boundaries and holding them or learning how to respond when boundaries are crossed.