Monday, March 16, 2009


Horsepower Therapy

March 16, 2009
Luisa D'Amato


There's something about horses that brings powerful healing to women with addictions, a Wilfrid Laurier University social work professor discovered.

Shoshana Pollack studied women with addictions who were already receiving counselling, in a study that is soon to be published. The women spent time with horses at stables near Toronto for 12 sessions, each lasting 90 minutes.

As they spent time with the horses, the women "experienced profound healing and growth . . . in ways they couldn't have experienced through talking therapy (talking to a counsellor)," Pollack said.

"There's something unique and special that working with the horses can bring to a person's healing."

The women didn't ride the horses, nor did they groom them, feed them or clean their stables, Pollack said. They just spent time with them, using them to learn more about themselves, she said.

It's called "equine-assisted psychotherapy."

There are just a couple of similar programs across Canada and the only other one for women is in an aboriginal healing lodge in Saskatchewan.

Pollack said horses are very sensitive to the environment around them. So, for example, when one woman was agitated and upset, she noticed that the horses would walk away from her.

"What she took from that was an awareness that her moods have a strong impact on the people around her," Pollack said.

When the woman tried to become calm again through deep breathing, and feel a gentle energy in herself, the horses would approach her once more.

"That kind of experience is so powerful in the moment," Pollack said.

Shame is something a lot of these women must face, and the horses can help with that too.

One woman was able to whisper a secret to one of the horses.

"She was able to share with them some things she couldn't share in individual or group therapy for fear of being judged," said Pollack. "It was between the horse and her. The horse wouldn't judge her."

The woman felt free, after that, Pollack said. "She was able to move into a place of self-forgiveness."

Pollack is the author of a study that urges better support for women who are released from prison. Nearly all the women she studied also had addiction problems.

She said her recent study with the horses showed that "it's a magical relationship that occurs."

"My dream is that we begin to find a way to allow women at Grand Valley (the federal women's prison in Kitchener) to participate in such a program."

Are you doing all you can to make this world a better place to live in?

No comments: