By Kate Naylor and Bettina Shultz-Jobe
Jumping into the field of Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), and/or Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) can be daunting – figuring out how to be properly trained and prepared can be even more so.
You can’t just google “get certified” and find a website that explains it all. It’s a bit of the wild west out here – so many teachers to choose from, so many approaches, and no central rules or regulation.
So what is an aspiring equine assisted practitioner to do?
The short answer is “do your research”…but, that’s not a very satisfying answer, is it?
So, we at The Natural Lifemanship Institute have put together a list of things we consider to be incredibly important to a thorough and quality certification in Equine Assisted Services (our inclusive term for EAT, EAP, and EAL) – and we’d like to share it with you!
Over the three decades that Natural Lifemanship founders Bettina and Tim Jobe have worked in the field of Equine Assisted Services (EAS), they have learned quite a bit about what is needed for effective, ethical practice.
It isn’t a simple process, nor should it be…because when you enter a field in which expertise is needed in both the human and equine realm, there is a lot to learn. Of course, we would love for you to train and get certified with us…but more than that, we want you to find exactly what you need to nurture your continued growth in this ever-growing field. Below are our Ten Things You Need to Know When Choosing an EAS Certification – we hope it is helpful!
1. Teacher Experience!
First and foremost, as you begin a certification, you want to know you are in capable hands. This is why understanding the qualifications of your teachers and trainers is so important.
Consider their experience!
How long have they been doing actual EAS work? In this newer field, many teachers may have great ideas but haven’t actually been offering EAS sessions for very long, or for very many total hours of practice. Consider some practitioners see 25 clients a week while others might only see one or two – weeks and months may not be the best measure of experience.
Time in the “pen”, so to speak, makes a world of difference when you are teaching both theory and skills. So as you do your research, ask yourself, how many hours of experience does this trainer have?
Malcolm Gladwell argues it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill…do your teachers come even close to that in either clinical experience, horse experience, or both?
2. Excellent Equine Experience!
Understanding the nuance of relating to equines and partnering with them in this work is a process that can only evolve with time, practice, and seasoned guidance.
Working with equines is just like any other relationship – intimacy, trust, and clear communication come with intentional effort over time. . .
There are no shortcuts to good horsemanship. Be careful of programs suggesting otherwise – there are no cheat sheets and quick fixes to understanding the complex and often understated ways equines communicate their needs.
Each one is an individual.
Not only is it important to learn about general equine behavior, learning, and communication, it is also important to learn about the specific equines with which you hope to work.
This takes time.
3. Clear ethics!
As you search for a program, consider the language that is used and the ethics that are both implied and explicitly stated.
The ethical motivations and underpinnings of any good certification program should be clear and readily available to you.
How does a program see the clients, the animals, and the therapy team? How does the program value experience, working within one’s skill set, perspective, theoretical underpinnings, acknowledgment of science/research, and a practitioner’s personal growth?
All of these are areas needing attention and guidance if one is to practice any helping profession ethically. It should also be evident that there are checks and balances in the approach itself, to safeguard against damaging bias and countertransference.
4. Personal Growth!
As NL says “the horse doesn’t know who the client is”…in our unique field we are relying on feedback and communication from our equine partners to help us move forward in our relationships with our clients.
Because we cannot ensure our equines only pay attention to client issues, our own patterns and internal experiences absolutely will and do influence our sessions.
Therefore, we cannot separate our own personal development from our professional development. A quality certification program will require you to consider your own internal experience as much as the client’s and horse’s in order for you to become a more conscious and effective practitioner.
Reflecting on your own relational history, your personal blind spots, triggers, motivations, and being in tune with your own body/mind/spirit should all be valued in your professional development.
5. Depth and breadth of learning!
What would you prefer if you were a client – a practitioner who had spent 5 days learning EAS, or a practitioner who had spent a year (or more) in coursework, practice, supervision, and consultation?
The requirements for certification in the EAS field are wide and varied – pay close attention to what it takes to become certified and consider the client perspective. What is best for our clients, who have little to no information about what it takes to say “certified in EAP, EAT, or EAL”?
Programs of excellence should offer theoretical and scientific underpinnings for their approach to both equines and humans – and should give you plenty of hours of not only learning but practice and reflection as well.
6. Practical Experience!
Practical experience is where the deeper learning happens…it is where theory is infused with reality, where cognitive information becomes embodied, where knowledge becomes wisdom, and where practitioners develop the “art” of their work.
Some programs do not require a practitioner to have ever worked with clients before becoming certified. Quality EAS isn’t just about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know. Practical experience is necessary for quality work.
7. Trauma Informed Care!
The term “trauma informed care” has become a buzzword in recent years, but what does it really mean?
Trauma Informed Care means that practitioners operate from a foundation of knowledge based in brain science – it conveys an understanding of how life’s rhythms and relationships impact an adaptable brain and body from a macro level down to the smallest neurons.
This knowledge informs the way in which practitioners engage with clients AND their equines, both in and out of session.
Trauma Informed practitioners value relationship, rhythm, and science in their approach – it should be explicitly taught, as well as modeled in their everyday behavior.
Trauma Informed Care should create safety and flexibility in the certification learning environment as well as in client sessions.
8. A Blend of Science and Art!
Relationships are an art – an improvised dance informed by all that each individual carries within them as well as the energy between the two.
There is no doubt that intuition and experience are paramount to guiding clients through a healing process unique to their needs. However, there is so much that the relational neurosciences can offer us so that our work is better informed – making our art more effective.
It is common in our field to acknowledge the art of EAS, what is less common is the incorporation of the sciences that can inform and guide our individual approach.
The fields of interpersonal neurobiology, attachment, somatics, and more have transformed psychotherapy and our understanding of living beings, with so much to offer this work – it would be negligent to ignore them.
9. Individual Support!
No two journeys are the same.
A certification process needs to be flexible and helpful to your specific skills, goals, and dreams. Whether you are a seasoned clinician, an experienced horse professional, a student just starting out, or something in between or otherwise – you can reach your EAS goals.
Look for a certification process that not only considers your experience an asset but offers teachers who know your field of expertise.
EAS can be blended with a wide variety of therapeutic approaches – and the certification process should reflect that!
And finally, more than anything else…does a certification process offer you….
Rather than a nameless, faceless, and relation-less training process, how about one where you know your teachers, engage with them in a variety of ways on a variety of topics over time, and develop a supportive and engaging network of colleagues?
Relationships are the vehicle for change – whether in therapy, in learning something new, or out in day to day life.
Can you speak to someone when you need guidance? Do teachers care about your individual development? Is your time valued and respected? Relationships make all the difference.
So what kind of relationship do you want with your training and certifying organization?
Wondering how to get started with NL?