While it can cause plenty of frustration (for both professionals, researchers, and clients alike), we find time and again that the benefits of therapy are not due to specific techniques learned or specific modalities used – they are due, in fact, to the quality of the person who is the therapist (or coach, or other practitioner).
Reactions to the NYT Magazine’s Take on Therapy
Just a couple of days ago, the New York Times Magazine released an article on the state of therapy in our country today. The journalist overtly shares her frustration with the simple fact that therapy and its outcomes are difficult to research quantitatively.
In fact, in multiple meta-analyses of research done over the years it has been repeatedly found that therapy helps many, and most therapeutic approaches help equally well. There aren’t really any “perfect” interventions or models. Nothing stands out in terms of what, clinically, we do.
So what DOES matter in good healing work?
Ultimately, it is the skills of the practitioner that make all the difference.
Not the skills needed to implement a protocol, but to foster healing connection.
The ability to connect, to empathize, to respond well to conflict, to remind the client (both in thinking and feeling) that they are not alone in their challenges.
This is what it means when we say the relationship is the vehicle for change. (You can also find a webinar on this subject here.)
This is why ALL of our trainings are (sometimes annoyingly) low on technique and formula, and high on personal development, self awareness, and the practice of the ART of connection.
We, as therapists, coaches, and healers of all kinds, are not trying to fix a problem (task), we are attempting, moment to moment, to see our clients, to hear our clients, to feel our clients – so that they have an experience of not being alone (connection).
To be with, not to fix
Life can be challenging, for everyone. It is not our job to fix that, it IS our job to BE WITH our clients in a way that eases the burden.
This is what The Natural Lifemanship Institute attempts to foster in each and every one of our students.
We work to cultivate the skillset to be a positive and therapeutic relationship for change.
Because as it turns out, this is what really matters.
Something we believe deeply at Natural Lifemanship is that this journey requires community. If you are a therapist looking for a supportive community of colleagues who are learning from each other and evolving every day, we invite you to join us. Learn more about NL Membership.
We are beyond thrilled to share an amazing new resource for the field edited by Cheryl Meola. We had the honor of contributing severals chapters to this book. When she approached us about contributing chapters, Cheryl said she wanted this book to be a resource for people newly entering the field of equine-assisted services. We were asked to write in a “newbie”-friendly way. That said, we believe this book is equally valuable for seasoned professionals and for those new to the field.
Here is a list of the book’s chapters with the titles we contributed in blue:
- Natural therapeutic aspects of horses by Cheryl Meola and Malaika King Albrecht
- The evolution of equine-assisted services (EAS): horses are good for people by Lorrie Renker, Octavia Brown and Pebbles Turbeville
- Horse Speak and Partnership by Sharon Wilsie and Laura Wilsie
- Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling (REPC) by Hallie Sheade
- An in-depth approach to relational work with equines: Natural Lifemanship by Bettina Shultz-Jobe and Kathleen Choe
- Breathing into relationships: the HERD Institute approach to equine-facilitated psychotherapy by Veronica Lac
- Side-to-side astride: the benefits and challenges of equine mounted work in trauma processing by Susanne Haseman
- Blended therapy modalities in equine-assisted psychotherapy: integrating equine-engaged internal family systems (EE-IFS) and equine-connected eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EC-EMDR) by Jenn Pagone and Kathleen Choe
- Medical therapy (OT, PT, SLP) enhanced with hippotherapy by Joann Benjamin, Ruth Dismuke-Blakely and Karen Gardner
- The Equus Effect: a road to regulation through equine-assisted learning by Jane Strong, David Sonatore and Elizabeth E. Lloyd-Richardson
- Serving those who served…and still serve by Tara Mahoney
- Beyond mind and body: spiritual connections in equine-assisted services by Kathleen Choe and Laura McFarland
- Be the Horse’s Advocate by C. Mike Tomlinson
- Enhancing the horses voice: incorporating Horse Speak into psychotherapy by Susanne Haseman, Sharon Wilsie and Laura Wilsie
- Exploring socio-emotional and cognitive development in horses by Tim Jobe, Tanner Jobe and Rebecca J. Hubbard
- Not just horsing around: an equine professional’s guiding principles by Malaika King Albrecht
- The role of the equine professional in equine-assisted services by Tim Jobe, Tanner Jobe and Reccia Jobe
- Heart centered horsemanship: the horse trainer’s perspective in EAS by Stacey Carter
- A holistic perspective: My transformative journey through Natural Lifemanship by Sarah Willeman Doran
- Are we there yet? The ongoing journey of healing for the healers by Kathleen Choe
- Interventions and strategies toward mental health and wellbeing for professionals by Aviva Vincent and Joanna Robson
- Starting or restarting an equine-assisted services organization: Don’t put the cart before the horse by Nancy Paschall
- The key to a successful non-profit board by John Matthew Kundtz
- How do you know it works: Evaluating equine-assisted service programs by Maureen MacNamara
- Bridging research and practice in equine-assisted services by Kimberly I. Tumlin
- Conclusions and future directions
Each chapter in this book is contributed by an expert in the field and provides an overview of the topic plus concrete examples and helpful resources. We are so proud to have been a part of this effort and cannot recommend this book strongly enough!
Psst…when you order the book through the links in this article, we earn a small affiliate commission. This transparency is important to us, but since we contributed to the book, you know we recommend it whole-heartedly!
This past August I attended the 2022 HHRF research conference – a conference about horses and human research. I joined roughly 60 other people in our field for one and one half days of presentations on some of the latest research in the field.
If you are not familiar with HHRF, it is the Horses and Humans Research Foundation. Its mission: “Through Sustained Investment In Rigorous Research, HHRF Serves As A Catalyst To Advance Global Knowledge Of Horse-Human Interactions And Their Impact On The Health And Wellness Of People And Horses.” The conference was attended by a fairly equal mix of researchers and practitioners, including some who represent both roles, as well as HHRF Board members, volunteers and industry leaders.
The presentations and panel discussion at the end opened up many fruitful conversations about the state of research in the field and where we go from here. I’d like to share a few of my impressions followed by the Natural Lifemanship Institute’s (NLI) research goals, moving forward.
- The value of employing mixed methods to better understand complex phenomena (horse-human interactions)
- The imperative of adopting common terminology and the need for sufficient ways to distinguish between different approaches to intervention through EAS so that findings can be discussed in terms of program components
- The need for more research examining the mechanisms of change in different EAS interventions (therapeutic riding, psychotherapy incorporating horses, etc.)
- The relative plethora of research examining the impact of EAS on individuals with disabilities and on veterans with PTSD, and the need for studies that broaden the populations of interest to include children and adults undergoing mental health treatment for complex trauma
Beyond Rating Scales: Objective Physiological Measures are Increasingly Employed in EA Research
A highlight of the conference, for me, was the number of investigations that examined biobehavioral and/or psychophysiological measures of human and equine well-being and stress.
Several of the studies sampled the horse’s and/or human’s cortisol, oxytocin and heart rate variability (HRV), for example. Some examined the efficacy of EAS interventions in terms of human outcomes while simultaneously taking the horse’s wellbeing and stress response into consideration. This is a very encouraging movement in the field and while there is still much to be understood, many of the methods presented were both feasible and reliable, and can be used with both horses and humans.
Others presented research on the perceived benefits and impact of EA services on the humans who participate in such services. Studies of this nature abound in this field and rely mostly on rating scales where the participants themselves and/or close others rate the participant on variables of interest (e.g., anxiety, depression, mindfulness skills) by completing questionnaires or interviews. These are typically pre-post designs that compare the data collected before, during and after the EAS intervention to observe change.
Yet other studies utilize behavioral observation protocols to document observable behaviors of the human and/or horse participants within and outside of EA sessions. These focus on behaviors that can be seen and counted. Specific behaviors are watched for, counted over a period of time or at specific intervals, and sometimes rated in terms of intensity. Scores may then be generated in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity of behaviors and these scores may be compared at different points in time to detect change.
Triangulation of Data & Breaking Things Down
The general consensus is that each approach has its strengths and limitations, and that, ideally, research projects should aim to employ mixed methods wherever possible to collect both subjective and objective data collected in quantitative and qualitative ways. Triangulation of data, which means taking into consideration multiple sources of data, generally provides researchers a more comprehensive picture of what they are seeking to understand.
In my experience with research and especially program evaluation, I feel it’s important to emphasize the need to break things down. We tend to want to demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions as a whole without taking the pains to understand and test their component parts. We always get the question, “Does psychotherapy incorporating horses work?” when we still need to understand how it works, under what conditions, and for whom. It’s important to devote our attention to understanding the mechanisms of change, meaning, what occurs in an intervention that produces its effects or lack thereof? What specifically serves as a catalyst of change, what other factors support those catalysts, and what factors may constrain them?
The Key: Carefully Selecting Mixed Methods
Furthermore, as many of the researchers at this conference pointed out, there are things we wish to measure (for example, stress) that are considered latent variables and cannot be measured directly. They must be measured indirectly by measuring observable concrete variables that occur when the variable of interest is considered to be present. In the case of stress, several things can be measured that point to stress, such as increased heart rate and decreased heart rate variability, increased cortisol, decreased oxytocin, and, of course, the presence of behaviors and/or affects associated with stress. The more valid and reliable sources of data that point to the same thing, the more confidence we can have in our findings and interpretations. This underscores, again, the need for carefully selected mixed methods in our field.
At the Natural Lifemanship Institute, we are strong proponents of research in the field. We base our approach on the science-based understanding of how relationships and relational interactions shape our individual lives across the lifespan. Because relationships matter so much to our development and our well-being as a species, our founders made it their work to figure out what qualities of relationships and relational interactions lead to the greatest well-being for both humans and horses in their relationships. This pursuit is principle based so that it may be individualized. What contributes to well-being in any horse-human dyad is dynamic and dependent on what each party needs and experiences moment to moment. Well-being in relationships requires a dance of attunement. This heuristic applies equally to horse-human relationships and relationships between humans and any species, for that matter.
The phenomena of an individual’s subjective experience of intra- and interpersonal relationships has historically been viewed as a psychological matter and studied within the field of psychology. However, increasingly, the biological sciences have contributed to our understanding that this phenomenon is inextricably linked to our bodies. Our experience of relationships is not strictly psychological; it doesn’t exist solely in our minds. It occupies our brains and nervous systems – and encompasses that which occurs biologically within us and between us.
The biological sciences underscore the influence that individual bodies and their behaviors (both explicit and tacit) have on the bodies and thus the felt experiences of each other. This interpersonal influence makes relationship more than a context or a field in which two individuals co-exist and have discrete psychological experiences; it is more like a shared body, where a third being (the relationship itself) emerges and loops back to each partner, affecting each in potentially healing or damaging ways. There is me, there is you, and there is us. We seek to understand and be responsive to all three. From a research perspective, to observe, describe, and understand these complex phenomena, a translational approach is needed. We must cross disciplines and come together with our respective lenses to undertake productive inquiry.
There is much work to do, still, with respect to research in this field, AND it appears we are on the right track. Thanks greatly to HHRF and similar initiatives worldwide, researchers and practitioners from a variety of approaches and disciplines are joining forces to better understand what we intuitively know to be true: That while it is surely the case that “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man [sic]”, the relationship is actually more multidirectional; we believe that the inside of a horse is good for the inside of a person, and the inside of a person can be very good for the inside of a horse, as well.
Look for more to come from Natural Lifemanship in this regard. We are dedicated to promoting research that explores horse and human interactions, the effects we have on one another’s positive development and well being, and to understanding the component parts of healing and well-being in our relationships.
We aim to support our community in their research and program evaluation endeavors. Please leave a comment below and let us know what you need.
You may have heard of the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits and you may be wondering what, exactly, they are, what purpose they serve, and for whom.
We created the Connection Kits to fill a need in our community of equine-assisted practitioners – a need that emerged again and again during the course of consultations. As is often the case with useful tools, our Connection Kits have been discovered by many folks outside of the EAS community as well, including school counselors, therapists who work in a more traditional setting, and even clients!
Built with a purpose
Our co-founder, Bettina Shultz-Jobe, found herself describing the ways she incorporates rhythm to build regulation and relationship within and between humans and horses during sessions. She would refer to various tools she would use for that purpose as well as concrete activities, and she would always explain the science that supports the activities and, in fact, everything we do in NL.
She came to realize that one of the biggest ways that we could support our community is by packaging these tools and resources into ready-made kits accompanied by instructional courses that explain how and why we use the tools to promote regulation, healing, growth, and connection for our clients and our horses, whether we are working inside or outdoors.
So, we created the kits! We incorporated our knowledge of science, healthy brain development, and the power of the horse-human relationship with easy-to-use tools that help organize, integrate, and regulate the brain and body and build deeper connections. We call these tools, the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits – Tools Designed to Enhance Your Equine-Assisted Practice.
These kits provide you with the same tools our expert professionals use at Natural Lifemanship, and hours of guided education including video demonstrations with our beloved horses, to ensure the tools are used safely and effectively. Most tools can be used in a traditional office setting, outside in nature, and with or without horses.
Who uses the Connection Kits? How do I know if they are for me?
If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, then the Connection Kits are for you!
- A professional who provides equine-assisted services?
- A parent of school-aged children?
- A teacher?
- A mental health professional?
- A helping professional who works with people who have experienced trauma?
- Someone who works with youth?
- Someone who works with seniors?
- Interested in learning how to regulate your own nervous system and how to help others regulate theirs?
- Interested in understanding the science behind the techniques?
- Appreciate having tools and concrete activities ready and available to use when working with others?
- Appreciate the convenience of video instruction so you can learn on your own schedule?
- Value the ability to earn CE credits (from NBCC)?
- Know somebody who fits any of the descriptions listed here and want to give them an absolutely amazing, one-of-a-kind holiday gift – the kind of gift that keeps on giving?
If this sounds familiar, then NL’s Connection Kits are for you.
Which Kit is Right for Me?
Really, each kit has something unique to offer. It may be helpful to hear a little about how some of our customers have used the kits and for what purposes.
Essential Connection Kit
The Essential Connection Kits are the most inclusive, containing many different tools and activities to regulate each region of the brain and to promote connection. This kit comes with 16 hours of instructional videos delivered in a course that offers 11.5 CE Credits.
The Essential Connection Kit is transportable, too! It comes neatly organized and packaged in a tote that you can take with you and use in an office, a school, and even outside.
This kit has been most popular with the equine-assisted practitioners (both therapists and coaches) who use our model. It has also been very popular with school counselors. We’ve had several districts buy one for each of their counselors to use with their students. Some counselors have also shared their kits and their knowledge of how to use them with the teachers at their schools. One school counselor reported that she has used the kit for her therapy groups at school, teaching regulation skills throughout the year.
The Essential Connection Kit activities can fit very easily into a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program if teachers and counselors choose to use it this way, as it promotes knowledge and skills related to how the brain works and bottom-up regulation.
Drum Connection Kit
The Drum Connection Kit comes with a Remo Bahia Buffalo Drum and nearly 5 hours of video instruction (and 4.5 CE credits) demonstrating ways to incorporate drumming to regulate the brain.
If all you want is the drum, we encourage you to head on over to Remo to purchase it. However, if you want the drum AND the online course with CE credits, you’ll want to buy it from us. Lots of folks have purchased this kit, including equine professionals and coaches. If you want to incorporate drumming into your work, the NL Drum Connection Kit makes it super simple.
Rhythm Bell Connection Kit
The Rhythm Bell Connection Kit is, surprisingly, the number one kit that is purchased by clients because they love them so much.
When therapists and other practitioners use the Rhythm Bells in sessions, clients fall in love with them because they are such a great regulation tool. They also really help people come into connection. For this reason, we’ve used them a lot in mounted work and have created multiple ways that these handcrafted bells can attach to the client’s clothing and the horse’s mane or saddle.
Another surprising fact is how many of our therapists like to use the bells in an office setting. We even have one client who wears these while walking during telehealth sessions. The Rhythm Bell course offers 2.5 CE credits.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Connection Kit
Finally, the Do-It-Yourself Connection Kit is also a great option, especially if you already have a collection of tools similar to the ones we package. The DIY Connection Kit gives you ALL of the downloadable instructions and resources you need to build your own Essential Kit. It includes the course and all the videos. It also includes the Drum Connection Kit course. It does not include any of the physical items that are demonstrated, but it gives you the information you need to purchase your own.
Because it includes both the Essential and the Drum Kit courses, the DIY Kit offers a total of 16 CE credits. It also is available to NL Members at a very steep discount.
How much do our customers love these kits? We’ll let them tell you in their own words.
The drum kit absolutely drives home the concept of bottom up regulation. After this course, I feel like I can confidently take these activities into my work with clients. Thank you!
– Ashley M Stavig
I love using the drum and bell kits with clients who have trauma. These are fundamental tools that give clients a ‘language’ (sound, movement) that makes sense of their world. These tools help me see, without the pressure of words, the client’s trauma. Essential for trauma work!!
– Jan Stump, MSW PEACE Ranch
I was able to understand the science behind the tools in each box [of the Essential Connection Kit]. I was able to see how to practically use the tools in a therapeutic setting.
– Christi Lundby, LPC-S, LCDC
Practicing walking with the bell and riding with the bell on me and my horse gave me an understanding of how my body is responding that is beyond anything I have ever felt before. It is not the regulation that was most important; it is the integration. Amazing.
– Marilee Donovan Dual Certified in NL
The Drum Connection Kit Course was both educational and fun. It was not only full of pertinent information, but it was easy to follow with demonstrations that I can use right away in my program. I loved learning how the progression of activities using the drum achieved full brain engagement. It was easy to follow and fun to watch.
– Claudia Alesi, Certified Equine Assisted Coach
It [essential connection kits] was all valuable. I appreciated the raccoon circle because I have a family that is struggling and I believe this will help show how important it is to connect and work together.
– Anonymous Customer
I have been a therapist for over ten years. Natural Lifemanship is the best therapeutic model that I have integrated into my practice. NL has provided me with the science and practical instruction to immediately improve my skills as a therapist with an equine partner or without. A sound principle is a sound principle resonates with me in all client/therapist relationships.
– Christi Lundby, LPC-S, LCDC
I do not generally respond to music and drumming is sometimes annoying, so I was not prepared to be amazed by the benefits of the bells. I wear a bell each morning when I go to turn the horses out and often I wear a bell when cleaning the barn and feeding. It is a mindfulness practice above all others. I had to work initially to have a rhythm but once found it is comforting and rewarding. Riding my horse with the bells generates another level of connection and we have a great connection already. Now when the horses hear me coming with the bell on they often come up and touch the bell on my clothing to say good morning. I would recommend this to any NL professional to deepen their own understanding of their body and of connection and integration.
– Marilee Donovan, Dual Certified in NL
I loved everything about the [Essential Connection Kit] course, very helpful and that it’s not just for psychologists but for teachers, parents, foster parents, equine professionals, etc.
– Anonymous Customer
Natural Lifemanship never ceases to amaze me with their dedication to incorporating both the art and science of connection, and the way this leads to healing and growth!
– Melissa McMullen, LSW, Equine Therapist at One Heart Stables with the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio
I am just beginning to learn about Natural Lifemanship, so everything [in the Essential Connection Kit] was valuable to me. It was very educational. I really love the demonstrations. They are easy to follow and I can’t wait to use them in my program.
– Claudia Alesi, Certified Equine Assisted Coach
We LOVE our Connection Kits and are so delighted that our community loves them, too. We love hearing about the creative ways people are putting these kits to use, and of course how they are working out.
If you already own a Connection Kit, please join our Connection Kit forum in our community so you can share ideas and resources with other Connection Kit owners.
Have questions about the Connection Kits? Leave them below and our team will get back with you.