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65 5 Silent Wisdom: Equine-Assisted Counseling with Deaf Clients Karen A. Tinsley What is equine-assisted counseling (EAC)? Imagine arriving at a small country farm nestled into a hillside, surrounded by old oak trees standing sentinel over younger maples and pines. In the distance, four horses graze peacefully, while two in a nearby pasture pick up their heads to assess the new arrival. Once they determine you represent no threat, they drop their heads and continue to graze. You are greeted by a friendly dog, wiggling his way over to you for a cursory sniff. He suddenly trots off toward a person walking out of the barn in dusty jeans, waving a friendly hello. This is your counselor, and it is your first EAC session. For the past two hundred years, horseback riding has been used as a therapeutic intervention for rehabilitating persons with physical disabilities. This approach to physical rehabilitation began appearing in the United States in the 1960s, and soon after, programs offering therapeutic riding to individuals with disabilities as a means of improving psychomotor functioning also reported improvements in socioemotional functioning (Frewin & Gardiner, 2005). This recognition has led to a recent growth in the industry which offers opportunities for human-equine interaction in which the human feet remain on the ground. The power of this approach lies in the relationship between the client and the horse. During a session that is monitored closely by the therapeutic team, consisting of a licensed mental health clinician and an equine specialist, client and horse depend on nonverbal cues to interact effectively during the experiential-based therapeutic session. The licensed mental health clinician brings the psychological expertise to the session, and the equine specialist provides expertise in the behavior and handling of the horses. The team works in concert to ensure the emotional and physical safety of both human and horse as they complete an assigned “challenge” task. As equine-assisted counseling has gained popularity, it has reached families, military personnel, youth groups, and individuals of all ages. Given the nonverbal ara86542_05_ch05.indd 65 ara86542_05_ch05.indd 65 12/10/15 6:56 PM 12/10/15 6:56 PM Karen A. Tinsley 66 nature of this therapeutic approach, it was assumed that Deaf clients could also benefit. In 2009 PBJ Connections, Inc., was approached by a signing clinician from the St. Vincent Family Center to refer several Deaf families for EAC sessions. Having participated in a Deaf group demonstration in Maine, the Deaf services clinician was eager to share cultural expertise with the willing nonprofit organization in Ohio. Through the use of interpreters, sessions were provided as an adjunct service to case management and therapy for two families. As a result of the positive feedback, collaboration between PBJ Connections and the Deaf Services Program led to a small grant-sponsored project for Deaf families. Upon completion of this pilot program, additional grant-sponsored collaborations occurred between PBJ Connections and the Ohio School for the Deaf and, more recently, with a local Deaf-oriented community resource. RATIONALE Why horses? Current literature cites the unique qualities of these prey animals as key factors in their success as partners in EAC sessions. The primary concern of any prey animal is safety. It is biologically designed to survive by fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Humans also have these abilities, but as our brains evolved and developed a more complex cerebral cortex, we also expanded our ability to use defense mechanisms such as rationalization, projection, and minimization to manage the more primal responses (Cozolino, 2010). In contrast, the prey animal’s senses remain finely tuned to catch subtle nuances in the environment. These senses in turn stimulate the adrenal system into taking appropriate action. Although intelligent and sentient, the horse does not have a human’s capacity for logical reasoning (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). The horse reacts without the influence of cognitive filtering, which gives EAC sessions their uniqueness. When the horse is allowed to express its natural instincts, clients have an opportunity to examine their own reactions and explore whether these reactions are part of a pattern of coping that may or may not be serving them well in other aspects of their lives. For example, if a client approaches a horse in a state of high energy (positive or negative), it will most likely react by moving away until it feels safe. For a child struggling with ADHD, approaching the horse may become a lesson in self-regulation as the horse reacts to the...


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