Last updated: March 06. 2014 7:14AM - 529 Views
For The Madison Press

Josie Harris, a second-grade student at Madison-Plains Elementary School, models the shirt she designed for participants in the district's equine assisted psychotherapy program.
Josie Harris, a second-grade student at Madison-Plains Elementary School, models the shirt she designed for participants in the district's equine assisted psychotherapy program.
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Madison-Plains Intermediate School is getting ready for the spring sessions of equine therapy.

Madison-Plains Local School District has partnered with PBJ Connections of Pataskala to conduct a research study on the effectiveness of equine assisted psychotherapy.

This program is available through to a grant written by PBJ Connections for Madison-Plains and currently provides services for up to 10 students.

“EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has an incredible impact on individuals, youth, families, and groups,” according to the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning Association (EAGALA). “EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.”

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy uses horses as well as a licensed therapist and a horse professional to address treatment goals.”

Information from the association explains, “EAP is experiential in nature. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors and patterns. This approach has been compared to the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses, dynamic and powerful living beings.”

The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities involving the horses which will require the client or group to apply certain skills including non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, work, taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence and having a positive attitude.

Officials say because of its intensity and effectiveness, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is considered a short-term approach.

The Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program being studied by Madison-Plains is conducted by a licensed mental health professional using horses. The program follows the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning model of therapy.

“The EAGALA model provides a standard and structure for providing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning sessions,” according to the association. “Practicing within a model establishes a foundation of key values and beliefs, and provides a basis of good practice and professionalism. The EAGALA model provides a framework of practice, but within that framework, there are infinite opportunities for creativity and adaptability to various therapeutic and facilitating styles.”

The EAGALA model is a team approach, matching an equine specialist, a mental health professional and horses to work together with clients. There is no horseback riding involved.

“Instead, effective and deliberate techniques are utilized where the horses are metaphors in specific ground-based experiences,” according to the association.

Students are supervised at all times when interacting with the horses and the horses utilized in the activities are carefully selected by an equine professional.

The association explains the basis of the EAGALA model is “a belief that all clients have the best solutions for themselves when given the opportunity to discover them. Rather than instructing or directing solutions, we allow our clients to experiment, problem-solve, take risks, employ creativity, and find their own solutions that work best for them.”

PBJ Connections is a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and behavioral health therapy.

Madison-Plains second grader, Josie Harris created a special horse head design for student T-Shirts. Students participating in the equine program this spring will be given one of the shirts. The Harris family donated the shirts and covered the cost of preparing them.

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