Tag Archives: Claire Dorotik

Can Equine Therapy Replace Traditional Therapy? by Claire Dorotik M.A.

While equine therapy has been employed as a more inviting modality for those who are otherwise treatment resistant, can it really be a replacement for traditional talk therapy? Certainly, with substance abuse cases, and with adolescents, practitioners have often relied on the addition of horses to elicit responses that would otherwise not be possible in human encounters. Horses are much less threatening than people, and simply being in their presence can result in a physiological calm, that can then pave the way to effective communication with a therapist. But is equine therapy enough to tackle some of the weighty therapeutic issues people face, or is talking things through with a licensed professional necessary?

Avid equine enthusiasts have long attested to the healing power of horses, and swore by their time with them, yet these people are also familiar with horses, and more than likely not entirely mystified by their responses. In almost an instinct, when a loved horse behaves in particular way, his owner will adjust her behavior accordingly, thereby providing the response that the horse is searching for. As an example, a typically bold horse may suddenly become quite tentative, and require more strength and leadership from his rider. Should the rider not respond with this, the situation would escalate, and perhaps become dangerous. And while this scenario involves some understanding for those not accustomed to horses, it happens in a matter of seconds.

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NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #7, by Claire Dorotik

NO SECRET SO CLOSE is the story of a the most unthinkable betrayal humanly possible — at only 24 years old, Claire Dorotik’s father has been murdered, her mother arrested, and now, in a sinister twist of fate, Claire’s mother points the finger at Claire, accusing her of killing her own father. Battling the feelings of loss, abandonment, terror, and dissociation, and also learning about them, Claire struggles to stay in her master’s program for psychotherapy. However, when Claire’s brothers also betray her and side with her mother, Claire is left all alone to care for the 18 horses she and her mother owned. As the story unfolds, what is revealed is the horses’ amazing capacity for empathy in the face of human trauma, and the almost psychic ability to provide the author with what had been taken from her. Arising from these horrifying circumstances, the most unthinkable heroes — the horses — show Claire that life is still worth living.

Excerpt #7 from NO SECRET SO CLOSE:

And we were different, he and I. My dad had been a high school football star in Texas at a time when injuries like dislocated shoulders were not a reason to stop playing. You just get back in the game. Running track in high school, a scratched cornea and a patch over my eye were not reason for me to miss practice either. I had no depth perception and would have to live with the name “Cyclops” that my teammates chided me with for years after, but you just get back in the game.

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Of Horse and Human: What’s behind the Bond, by Claire Dorotik M.A.

People, for centuries, have been drawn to horses. Their power, grace, and mystique has not escaped the attention of thousands who are otherwise unfamiliar, as horse racing, in particular, has consistently drawn national attention. Additionally, the development of our relationship with horses has symbolized many societal changes. From the beginning, horses were used solely for work related tasks, such as plowing fields, transportation, and military conquests. At this time, little attention was paid to their welfare, and consequently, little more than rudimentary efforts were expected of them. However, as equines immersed into a multitude of cultures, and their unique qualities became more evident, they began to be looked at differently. With the realization of what more could be accomplished with horses, their societal value rose, as did the concern for their welfare. Soon horse racing evolved and shortly thereafter, a well stocked stable was considered a sign of wealth.

With horses evidencing wealth and stature, the exploration of just what it is about horses that provides this feeling soon emerged. Certainly, various theories came to the forefront, and while each one was somewhat different they were not separated in their belief that horses offer humans emotional wellness. Yet the question remained, what really constitutes the bond that horses and humans share?

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NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #6, by Claire Dorotik

NO SECRET SO CLOSE is the story of a the most unthinkable betrayal humanly possible — at only 24 years old, Claire Dorotik’s father has been murdered, her mother arrested, and now, in a sinister twist of fate, Claire’s mother points the finger at Claire, accusing her of killing her own father. Battling the feelings of loss, abandonment, terror, and dissociation, and also learning about them, Claire struggles to stay in her master’s program for psychotherapy. However, when Claire’s brothers also betray her and side with her mother, Claire is left all alone to care for the 18 horses she and her mother owned. As the story unfolds, what is revealed is the horses’ amazing capacity for empathy in the face of human trauma, and the almost psychic ability to provide the author with what had been taken from her. Arising from these horrifying circumstances, the most unthinkable heroes — the horses — show Claire that life is still worth living.

Excerpt #6 from NO SECRET SO CLOSE:

My hand reached up to rub the round patch of white hairs in the middle of Nimo’s forehead.

“You’re free,” I whispered to him.

He looked at me intently, cocking both ears forward.

“That’s right, you’re free. Do you remember what you taught me? Well, back at ya pal.”

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Equine Therapy: Are Some Breeds Better Than Others? by Claire Dorotik

When equine therapy first became popular as a therapeutic modality, it found its way into many addiction treatment centers. At the same point in time, the theory of dual diagnosis — where addicts are understood to have a secondary diagnosis in addition to an addiction — was also gaining ground. As more and more sufferers of addiction were found to have experienced trauma that might be at the root of their proclivity for addictive substances, the thought was that introducing horses that have also been abused in some way, would help these patients relate to the horses, and consequentially, their own traumas.

However, during this time, the thought of particular breeds being more adept as therapy horses was not considered. Yet for the horse experts who were often employed to work alongside the therapists in the equine therapy sessions, this was clearly a question worth pondering. And to those who have spent years showing, riding and training horses, the idea that breed does not influence personality, behavioral characteristics, and certainly ability to work in the therapeutic capacity, would be absurd.

Yet even given the breed differences that are clear to people familiar with horses, the calling of a therapy horse is somewhat unique. Not asked to “perform” in typical horse events, the therapy horse is asked to do something that most people, themselves, struggle with. He is expected to be ability to interpret the underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the person. While the outward responses a person can have to many situations are frequently obvious to those around him, what the therapist is most concerned with is what is not said, expressed, or otherwise made obvious. For this, she turns to the horse. Through the horse’s responses to the person, the hope is that often unconscious motives will be revealed. Then once this shadowed self is out in the open for not only the therapist, but also the patient to see, internal conflicts can be resolved.

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NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #5, by Claire Dorotik

NO SECRET SO CLOSE is the story of a the most unthinkable betrayal humanly possible — at only 24 years old, Claire Dorotik’s father has been murdered, her mother arrested, and now, in a sinister twist of fate, Claire’s mother points the finger at Claire, accusing her of killing her own father. Battling the feelings of loss, abandonment, terror, and dissociation, and also learning about them, Claire struggles to stay in her master’s program for psychotherapy. However, when Claire’s brothers also betray her and side with her mother, Claire is left all alone to care for the 18 horses she and her mother owned. As the story unfolds, what is revealed is the horses’ amazing capacity for empathy in the face of human trauma, and the almost psychic ability to provide the author with what had been taken from her. Arising from these horrifying circumstances, the most unthinkable heroes — the horses — show Claire that life is still worth living.

Excerpt #5 from NO SECRET SO CLOSE:

“I only know one. But he’s very good.” Two years before I had been sued. I was trying to sell my first horse Cheers, when a woman and her daughter saw him at a horse show and asked if they could take him on trial. I was naïve, and they seemed nice. We wrote a contract on the back of a show entry and shook hands. “The buyer will have two weeks to try the horse, at the end of which time she can either purchase him for the agreed price of $10,000, or give him back.”  That’s what it said, word for word. It didn’t say that if I took my horse back when they didn’t buy him that it would result in “emotional damages” to her daughter. When the woman chased the hauler down the freeway in her Range Rover, honking and swearing at him, I thought he was the one who would suffer emotional damages. She wanted longer than two weeks, but didn’t want to pay for the horse. I just wanted my horse back. But she sued me anyway and hired a prestigious attorney. I had no money. I couldn’t even decipher the papers I had been served with. When I showed it to the trainer I was riding for at the time, she said, “You gotta call Mike, he’s the best.” I took the number and the papers and went to see him. When he saw the name of the woman’s attorney, he told me I was in trouble. But he took the case for $500. It was a pro-bono for him. I thought it was an act of sympathy.

So I gave him a call. He didn’t hesitate. He also didn’t ask questions. Another act of sympathy. “Kerry Steigerwald. Call Kerry Steigerwald.”

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Equine Therapy: What Is It Good For? by Claire Dorotik

While those familiar to horses would contend that horses, in general, are good for any type of person, therapists, for whom which equine therapy is a new, untested field, have not been so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Many of the concerns expressed have surrounded the relative lack of evidence available indicating the efficacy of work with horses, but also, lack of clarity as to what particular diagnosis may be helped by equine therapy. Certainly these concerns are not without validity as we have learned that with the fertile emergence of all types of experiential therapies, some approaches are not helpful, and in some ways harmful, for certain types of clients.

So in considering the introduction of equine therapy for clients, we must be clear just who can be helped by our equine friends, as with other experiential methods, equine therapy is not for everyone. However, from the beginning, equine therapy was promoted for all types of clients, with the largest and most prominent usage surrounding eating disorders. Remuda Ranch, in Wickenburg, Arizona (www.remudaranch.com), has in many ways been a trendsetter in this movement. This particular center, which is designed exclusively for the treatment of pervasive cases of eating disorders, incorporates horses with every client, and the equine therapy program enjoys a large share of treatment time.

Of late, equine therapy has been espoused as an effective treatment for addictions, with the majority of centers promoting this, among other experiential therapies as a way to engage and ascertain information from clients who might otherwise be treatment resistant. The frontrunner in this approach has been Sierra Tucson, (www.sierratucson.com) the prominent rehabilitation center in Tucson Arizona. Like Remuda Ranch, equine therapy is a part of every client’s program, and the center’s sister site, Miraval (www.miravalresorts.com), a less intense and more akin to a “health spa,” uses equine therapy in majority to restore balance and wellness to clients’ lives.

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NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #4, by Claire Dorotik

NO SECRET SO CLOSE is the story of a the most unthinkable betrayal humanly possible — at only 24 years old, Claire Dorotik’s father has been murdered, her mother arrested, and now, in a sinister twist of fate, Claire’s mother points the finger at Claire, accusing her of killing her own father. Battling the feelings of loss, abandonment, terror, and dissociation, and also learning about them, Claire struggles to stay in her master’s program for psychotherapy. However, when Claire’s brothers also betray her and side with her mother, Claire is left all alone to care for the 18 horses she and her mother owned. As the story unfolds, what is revealed is the horses’ amazing capacity for empathy in the face of human trauma, and the almost psychic ability to provide the author with what had been taken from her. Arising from these horrifying circumstances, the most unthinkable heroes — the horses — show Claire that life is still worth living.

Excerpt #4 from NO SECRET SO CLOSE:

But then I did finally get a call from a trainer interested in Cat. Not the one I want to sell. Not my Cat. But I had to show her the horse. The horses needed feed, and there was no more money for the attorney. Kerry, the same attorney that had accused me. Kerry, the same attorney that had publicly defamed me. But pay him anyway — he’s defending your mom. After all, she didn’t have any other source of income, and Cat was half hers. But, he was, by far, my best horse. He’d been such a solid performer — always there when I needed him.

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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.

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NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #3, by Claire Dorotik

NO SECRET SO CLOSE is the story of a the most unthinkable betrayal humanly possible — at only 24 years old, Claire Dorotik’s father has been murdered, her mother arrested, and now, in a sinister twist of fate, Claire’s mother points the finger at Claire, accusing her of killing her own father. Battling the feelings of loss, abandonment, terror, and dissociation, and also learning about them, Claire struggles to stay in her master’s program for psychotherapy. However, when Claire’s brothers also betray her and side with her mother, Claire is left all alone to care for the 18 horses she and her mother owned. As the story unfolds, what is revealed is the horses’ amazing capacity for empathy in the face of human trauma, and the almost psychic ability to provide the author with what had been taken from her. Arising from these horrifying circumstances, the most unthinkable heroes — the horses — show Claire that life is still worth living.

Excerpt #3 from NO SECRET SO CLOSE:

But I wanted to believe that my mother was kind and loving. I’d see her with my brother’s friends, and think that she was a great mom. They’d all talk to her about what was going on with them, in a way every parent hopes their teenager will talk to them.  She’d sit and listen for hours. And they’d all say that they wished they could talk to their own parents this way. I’d watch, just sitting around the edges, wondering why not me? Why can’t I be listened to like that? But maybe Dad was right; maybe I was the source of the family’s financial strain. Maybe we would’ve been better off without the horses.

Continue reading NO SECRET SO CLOSE excerpt #3, by Claire Dorotik