Tag Archives: Claire Dorotik

An Interview with Hippotherapy Professional Amanda DeLizzio, by Claire Dorotik

After the popularity of my last interview with an equine therapy professional, I thought another would be appropriate. This one is with occupational therapist, Amanda DeLizzio. DeLizzio specializes in hippotherapy, and works at the Memorial Hospital program in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Memorial Health System partners with Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center (PPTRC) in Falcon to provide these services. PPTRC is the only therapeutic riding center in the region that has received premier accredited status from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

1. What would you say the largest benefits of equine therapy?
There are so many benefits to using an equine in therapy.  The biggest benefits in the fields of occupational and physical therapy are improving postural control, core strength and endurance, balance, coordination, and motor planning.  These are more the physical benefits, but there are also so many emotional and psychological benefits as well.  The children are empowered by riding the horse and get an amazing sense of power and control by riding a 1,000 lb animal.  The children really connect with the horses and gain so much self-confidence.

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An Interview with an Equine-Assisted Expert Pam Salem, by Claire Dorotik

While there are a number of ways to describe equine therapy to those not familiar with horses, sometimes there is nothing better than a personal interview. For this blog, I interviewed Pam Salem, an equine expert and co-facilitator of the equine therapy experiential program at English Mountain Recovery. Pam is also the founder of Equine Assisted Assets, which is dedicated to the growth and advancement of equine therapy.

1. What drew you to equine therapy?

As a horse lover from an early age, I knew the benefits that horses had given to my life. I wanted to share those benefits with others.

2. What are the major benefits to the client of equine therapy?

One primary benefit is authentic connection. Clients learn the difference in relating to the horse as a willing partner and how that connection feels. Kinesthetically it is something they are able to take with them into future relationships. The non-judgmental equine partner provides a safe emotional environment for recognizing one’s patterns of behavior and learning coping skills.

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Equine Therapy and Intra-Family Violence: Are There Benefits? by Claire Dorotik

Intra-family violence can be one of the most challenging issues to treat in therapy. Much of the complexity results not only from the family’s likely mistrust of the system and the professionals that are a part of it — particularly in cases where Child Protective Services may have already intervened — but also, the prevalence of co-occurring disorders, such as addictions.

Often, these families will minimize the extent of the violence, possibly target one family member as the “problem” or offer the therapist platitudes — compliance in the service of resistance — that obfuscate the reality of the situation. While the therapist may suspect the violence is much more severe than is presented and gently confront the family, they may become defensive, increase resistance, or leave the therapy altogether. This dynamic combined with the family’s general mistrust of therapeutic settings places the therapist in a very difficult bind.

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Equine Therapy: Can It Help Me Lose Weight? by Claire Dorotik

With today’s current obsession with weight loss, people have been known to try quite an amazing array of different ways to thin down. From sweatsuits in summertime to juice diets and everything in between, we attack the “problem” mercilessly.

So it’s no surprise then that recently I received an email asking if equine therapy can be helpful for weight loss.

My first question was, “Do you know what the food represents for you?”

The answer: “I know I am an emotional eater, so I must eat for emotional reasons.”

While it was clear to me that this person had needs that were yet unmet, and had probably been stuck there for some time, the answer also illuminated the gross avoidance of underlying mental health struggles connected to weight gain. That’s not to say heavy people are guaranteed a mental health diagnosis, but there should be some attention towards classifying what otherwise might be a very complex intra-psychic conflict as “emotional eating.”

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Equine Therapy: Unplugged, by Claire Dorotik

More people than ever before are “connected”. Smart phones, iPads, laptops and video games seem the norm when forced to wait for any these days, even if the wait is only 3 minutes. Additionally, these connection devices have easily infested almost every area of our lives and people — so much so that to ask someone to put down the phone, shut off the computer or iPad, or disconnect the earbuds from their ears is like asking them to stop breathing. Most people will complain that without their device, they don’t feel “connected”. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

When people connect through a device, like a phone, several things that accompany a face-to-face interaction are missing. Primarily, the emotional exchange that occurs when two people experience each other’s facial expressions and body language is missing. Otherwise known as “emotional contagion”, this syncing of expressed emotion has been demonstrated to have a calming effect on a person’s physiology.

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Equine Therapy: Biphasic Personality, by Claire Dorotik

Personality is one of the most common recipients of a multitude of behavioral attributions. More often than not, when the actions of another defy understanding, it is the “type of person that he/she is” that becomes the reasoning for these otherwise incomprehensible features of a person. Further, we even have specialized segments of personality that characterize behavior that exists outside of the “normal spectrum” of behavior. Some examples of this are “addictive personality”, “abusive personality” and “survivor personality.” And for each of these personality subtypes, behavioral traits are understood to be consistent for that subtype. However, as research into what separates those who seem to survive, and even thrive, in the face of extreme stress from those who are debilitated by it, the idea that a personality that is “biphasic” is more adaptive to stress has emerged.

So what is a biphasic personality, and what does it have to do with horses? Biphasic simply means the ability to have opposing behavioral traits housed in one person. A biphasic person can then be said to be both selfish and unselfish, generous and miserly, rigid and flexible, driven and lazy, and introverted and extroverted. For example, a biphasic person can be seen at times to be extremely selfless and generous toward others, yet at other times, be acting for self-motivated reasons. Of course, this type of behavior typically obfuscates logic, yet it is also extremely adaptive. The reason, of course, is that not every situation faced by people requires the same behavioral approach. To be sure, sometimes it pays off to be driven, and at other times, it is better to be patient, and yes, lazy. This is certainly the case during extreme stress.

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Three Ways to Improve Relationship Communication Using Equine Therapy, by Claire Dorotik

Certainly equine therapy has been popular for autism, developmental disorders and now PTSD with veterans. However, for clinical therapists, the bulk of cases have to do with relationships. The question then becomes: can equine therapy help improve relationships? The answer is yes, and here are three ways:

  1. Energy awareness. People are often very unaware of the energy they bring into a relationship and how this energy may affect others. This energy that I am referring to is of course housed nonverbally, but felt and often unintentionally expressed. While people are frequently hesitant to mention to another person just how their energy may be affecting them, horses, on the other hand, simply react to it. By shying away from someone who is very angry, for example, or protecting someone who is very vulnerable, a horse’s response to a person’s energy can illuminate and clarify the energy a person brings into a relationship.
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Equine Therapy: A Bioenergetic Approach to Repetition Compulsion, by Claire Dorotik

There are many reasons people do things, and often, these motivations are not obvious to the external world. While we tend to portray motivation as the desire to do something, it is true that motivation can also represent the desire to return to something.

The concept of motivation as a regressive experience was first discussed by Freud who introduced the concept of repetition compulsion. According to Freud, repetition compulsion happens for two reasons. While both are unconscious processes, the first is lodged in the patient’s physiology.

When trauma happens, Freud explained, there is a bioenergetic response that corresponds to it. Further, trauma that is unresolved leaves a bioenergetic residue that then the body is compelled to return to, being that it has not been resolved. The second reason a person may repeat a traumatic experience has to do with mastery. After all, trauma involves an emotional response that exceeds the person’s ability to handle — or master — it.

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Equine Therapy: Effects of Perfection on Horse-Human Relationships, by Claire Dorotik

Perfectionism drives human performance to elite levels, often achieving unequalled accomplishments. However, the push to be great can also have a deleterious effect on a person’s mood, and certainly, relationships. Often those around the perfectionist feel disregarded, or inadequate. But what if the relationship with the perfectionist involves a horse?

Horses have a unique way of telling us the truth about ourselves, at times revealing parts of our character that were hidden or overlooked. For a perfectionist, a person who spends a great deal of time insuring that character deficits are avoided, this can often be a little disconcerting. On the other hand, the horse’s response to a perfectionist can also be relieving.

When a person imposes this need to be perfect on a horse, the animal often responds with tension. The horse may appear tense, hypervigilant, and essentially on edge, and may resist the handler in a number of ways. The horse may overtly object to the person by balking, acting stubborn, or attempting to flee. On the other hand, the horse may simply shut down, tuning the person out.

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Equine Therapy: Perspective Taking, by Claire Dorotik

While horses can teach us many things, perhaps the most important thing we can understand is how to take another’s perspective. Never is this more important than with autistic children.

Autism came more into public recently with the release of the well-received “The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son” by Rupert Isaacson. The book was then made into a movie, and Isaacson created a foundation to promulgate his methods when working with autistic children.

The website for Isaacson’s foundation discusses many aspects of both autism and classical dressage riding, beautifully infusing the two to create a template for understanding not only the reality of autism, but life through fundamental dressage principles.

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