Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy: Working in the Unconscious, by Claire Dorotik, M.A.

While there is no debate among those who work with horses that the truth about people cannot be masked when around them. It seems that even those who seem to project one emotion will frequently be found to have another. An apparently confident person can struggle mightily with the simple task of placing a halter on a horse. And often, under circumstances such as these, those around the otherwise unchallenged person will stand back in awe of what was previously unbeknownst to them. Such is the nature of the unconscious. It is an all together present, and yet wholly ignored, facet of the human equation. Sometimes called a “gut instinct,” there have been some who have suggested its wisdom in everyday decisions, and absolute importance in the more pressing life and death situations. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Blink,” for one makes a very elegant case for utilizing the prescient nature of the unconscious in predicting satisfaction with all sorts of life decisions.

Yet for as much as the unconscious can offer, it is, for the most part, outside of the everyday awareness of the masses. However, that is not to say that the human system is not affected by unconscious drives, fears, and motives. Those in the field of trauma will strongly argue that in the case of overwhelming traumatic situations, while there is often no conscious memory, there remains a physiological imprint of the trauma, called a “body memory.” In a case such as this, a person will experience physiological reactions, such as increased pulse, elevated startle response, and muscle tension despite the absence of any noticeable stimuli. And here again, while the remnants of the trauma are register physiologically, and hold the truth about the trauma, they are not responded to, as consciously, the person has no reason to.

Placed in the ring with a horse, however, a different story unfolds. Because horses communicate physiologically, there is no such divide between unconscious and conscious experience as there is in people. Instead, horses use these physiological responses as a means of maintaining and restoring the very system that is equated with safety. To be sure, many horse experts have witnessed the almost imperceptible ability of one horse becoming startled to create the same response in another. And these responses are not stifled as they are in people. What a horse experiences physiologically, he responds to immediately. As do all of the horses in the herd. Implicit in its very nature, this form of communication is both adaptive, and hard wired — meaning that it does not escape the relationship a horse forms with a human. Here, he is still responding physiologically, communicating with what is under the surface of consciousness of his human partner. He is responding as he would to another horse with the same physiological underpinnings, in an attempt to maintain the only system he knows — that of the herd. And when his behaviors are understood in that context, a skilled practitioner can interpret to the client what has been unknown to him, yet is clearly evident to the horse.

Claire Dorotik, M.A., is the author of ON THE BACK OF THE HORSE: Harnessing the Healing Power of the Human-Equine Bond, now available on Amazon Kindle. For more information on Claire or her books, please visit www.clairedorotik.com, or www.greathorsebooks.com.

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