Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Dr. Joseph Lancia
75 Walker Rd
Hilton, NY 14468
Phone: (585) 392-3492

Genesee Valley Psychiatric Association Newsletter March 2007


Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Joseph Lancia, D.O.


Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a new and emerging field. It involves a team approach between a licensed mental health professional and an equine specialist. It is psychotherapy that promotes growth and change in people through activities that incorporate horses. It is not a riding or horsemanship program. It is a short term solution focused approach that heavily involves the use of metaphor as a way to address current life challenges and elicit unconscious material that may be limiting a healthier emotional and psychological state of being. It can be helpful in a variety of psychiatric disorders including but not limited to depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, behavioral dysregulation and impulse control disorders, relationship issues and chemical dependency issues.


The therapy involves setting up ground activities that invite the individual, couple, family or group to look at their current styles of relating, communication (including verbal and nonverbal), problem solving and emotional regulation. It also allows for increased awareness and assessment for the individual of their current beliefs and attitudes.


The metaphors set up can be formal (those presented by the treatment team to address a particular treatment issue) or natural (those elicited in the course of therapy from the patient as part of the unfolding process). Metaphors work by allowing those involved to do a transderivational search to locate the area of meaning most resonant with their current psychological challenges and state of functioning. So the activities set up (catch and halter, ground tie, life’s little obstacles) all become potential metaphors. The lead lines, halters, the horses, the different aspects of the obstacle set up all become potential metaphors to address the treatment goals and psychological difficulties in the patient’s life.


The horses can become aspects of a patient’s emotional life (ex. freedom from depression, frustration, lack of will power) or they can become significant people in their life (parents, spouse, and employer). The obstacle can be metaphors for challenges to abstinence for addicted individuals, difficulty complying with medical treatments or anxiety in social situations to name a few.

While engaging in these metaphors while doing the activities the individual has the opportunity to learn about how they approach problems in their life and establish relationships. The benefit is they not only process the session but have the opportunity to look at what works and does not and try again. Some aspects of how the horses are metaphors for relationships include looking at whose needs are being met, problem ownership (whose problem is it), taking responsibility in recognizing how personal actions affect others and looking at beliefs regarding relationships.


The insights gained and skills learned in the arena can then be taken to other aspects of the individual’s life outside the session. Potential benefits of EAP include building self confidence, self efficacy and empowerment, communication, trust, anxiety reduction and impulse modulation, addressing boundaries, assertiveness and practicing social skills. EAP is a problem solving model of change that utilizes metaphor to look at expanding perceived limitations, allows behavioral practice and cognitive restructuring.


Horses are helpful in this therapy as they are social animals and have distinct personalities and places within the herd. What works with one horse may not work with another. They also are prey animals and because of this they are aware of their environment and non verbal aspects of communication which encourages the participants to look more closely at their own non verbal aspects of communication and how this impacts relationships and movement towards attaining goals.


The best way to understand the usefulness and power of this type of therapy is to see a demonstration and participate in the process to experience first hand how metaphors unfold and through transderivational searches become quickly relevant to current psychological issues. I will offer this opportunity to interested individuals and would open the farm to a group coming out for such an experience. The therapy takes place at Windhorse Farm, LLC in Hamlin and the phone number is 392-3492 for further information or referrals.