The perceived benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy: a thematic analysis based on small scale study interviews of equine assisted psychotherapists and counsellors
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The focus of this research was to develop a thematic analysis based on therapists’ perceptions of the benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), to understand why this therapy is not used or accepted as a viable treatment option. Four interviews were conducted with two Equine Assisted Psychotherapists and two Equine Assisted Counsellors. From these interviews three main themes where identified; EAT Modality, Other Theory and Practice, and the New Zealand Context with Regards to EAT. These three themes contribute to how the therapists perceive the benefits of EAT and allude to the potential limitations of this form of treatment. The first main theme, ‘EAT Modality’, spoke of the specific factors that this modality offers to provide clients with a different and powerful experience, such as the qualities of horses and the qualities of therapists. The second main theme ‘Other Theory and Practice’ offered theoretical concepts that contribute to the efficacy of this treatment method, such as unconditional positive regard and projection. This main theme also identified for which client diagnosis this form of therapy can be relevant. The third main theme ‘New Zealand Context with Regards to EAT’ identified the single limitation within this study; the therapist’s safety in New Zealand. Overall, the three main themes have identified what the therapists’ believe are the benefits of EAT; the modality itself, the theory and practice used within the sessions, and the New Zealand context. It seems that EAT is hugely beneficial within New Zealand as it is an established horse country and much of the population is rural. EAT fits well into this society and offers an outdoor experience which provides a new and different way of working therapeutically. However, the therapists who work in this modality concluded that the therapist’s safety is a substantial limitation. The participants noted they felt alone in their work and the support provided was restricted. The use of projection and unconditional positive regard appears to provide clients with an opportunity to place their unwanted and painful feelings onto another object (in this case, a horse) and work with them in a physical and emotional manner. The unconditional positive regard that the horse offers the client seems to give the client a space where they do not feel judged or reproached for their undesirable parts of self and feel accepted by the horse, no matter what. The EAT modality presents the client with an active, directive form of therapy, which is outdoors, and fun.