The Sacred Dance of Relationships

February 10, 2015 by  

It is fitting that this newsletter is focusing on relationship and connection this month of Love.  What exactly defines a good relationship and how does love come into it?  This is not the kind of Valentine love we associate with romance and one person but the kind of love which happens between species and joins like hearted animals and people in the sacred dance of relationship. 

A recent study cited in the Journal of Clinical Psychology has been under a lot of discussion with facilitators and practitioners of Equine Facilitated Learning(EFL) and Psychotherapy (EFP). The study questions the efficacy of EFL and I believe that it is good to see this modality reviewed.  However, I feel a need to stand up for this work that is so relationship-based and when practiced by ethical facilitators can be life changing.


What I have noticed in the 30 plus years I have worked as a psychotherapist and in the practice today as a credentialed coach is that many individuals do not understand or operate within their scope of practice.  In order to genuinely do this we must “Know thyself”. This encompasses understanding the concepts of projection and transference and being able to identify when we are into “our own stuff”.  Not a technical term but one which describes the practice of taking our personal inventory, much like the practice described in step 10 of the 12 step program.  My mentorship program requires people to thoroughly understanding their own thoughts and emotions in order to not affect the relationship possible between the horse and the client. This takes courage and a special kind of person who deeply understands the gift and the fragility of working with people and animals.  

I recently came across an old study conducted at the University of Chicago in the 1950’s where Eugene Gendlin, at the time a young graduate student working with the great American Psychologist Carl Rogers, set out to find why some people in therapy have successful outcomes and others don’t. As a former practicing psychotherapist myself I intuitively knew that their findings were accurate and today very relevant. Gendlin and his associates were able to determine that it was not a particular form of therapy that was the crucial variable or even the skill of the therapist but rather the ability of the client to connect with and speak from a “nonconceptual, bodily felt experience” of the issues that were troubling them.

The research done on Implicit Knowing – that bodily felt sense – and Gendlin’s work demonstrate that it is some kind of unclear inner sensation that cannot be fully expressed that makes the biggest difference in healing. The “felt sense” is a place between the conscious and the unconscious and often lies below the level of everyday awareness and thus is often difficult to put into words and be known by our left brain. This felt sense is what the horses, as prey animals, respond to when we are interacting with them. Implicit Knowing is that place in-between where healing happens and a place which is readily identified by the horse and solidified for the client by an adept facilitator.

Eugene Gendlin’s book “Focusing” and the work of many psychologists in the field of human development, most notably Daniel Siegel’s book “Mindsight” are some examples of the recent studies being done on the importance of the body and a spiritual practice for lasting healing. Our work with horses requires us to be in our bodies and to be open the unknown and the unexplainable process that happens only in relationship. 


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