Horses that Heal

Applying Systems Intelligence Theory to Equine-assisted Therapy and Coaching

We are doing research at Systems Analysis Laboratory at Aalto University of Helsinki. The main purpose of our on going work is to understand more deeply the impact mechanism of equine-assisted leadership and corporate training. The paper, now in the process, offers an integrative conceptual framework of equine assisted coaching and provides conceptual meta-understanding to the key practices found useful.

The theoretical assumption behind our practical work is that equine assisted therapy and learning yields significant and methodical reinforcement developing the bodily and emotional sensibilities required in human communication.

During summer and autumn 2016 we have been facilitating Leadership trainings with horses in Loppi, Finland. Now our data consist around 50 hour videos, Systems Intelligence self-evaluation test and interviews of participants.

Our approach is rooted both in practical wisdom and solid scientific foundation. Reinforcing multilayered intelligence forms the basis of the fruitful work we do. As a theoretical background we use mainly Systems Intelligence approach and integratively psychotherapy and infant research. Systems Intelligence is a constructive force that combines human sensitivity and active doing. The whole shapes the person, and the person, for their part, shapes the whole – often intuitively, instinctively and subconsciously.

Working with the horses is based on EKD Horsemanship, a method developed by Esa Korhonen Dimitroff. EKD Horsemanship is concerned with both human and equine wellbeing and entails gradually deepening horsemanship skills on the ground, on horseback and in the mind. In addition to SoulTeam’s corporate training, Esa also organises courses that focus solely on horsemanship.

No prior experience with horses is required for participants. Even though we have noticed that the training have been impressive also for those experienced equine enthusiast, who have participated.

The training consists of a mix of exercises and observations that involve both humans and horses. We use the natural roles of the herd of horses to help to illustrate and practice the elements needed. Several horses are involved in the training and their different personalities offer a rich reflective surface.

Our findings are very promising. Video material clarifies beautifully how through moment-to-moment communication with horses shifts our mindset from talking and analysing to living, experiencing and doing. The human-equine dyad provides for the participants a context to experience beingness, connectedness and psychological safety in a relationship. ”Doing what works” becomes instantly apparent whether we are talking about a defined goal, success in general, nourishing attitude, novel solutions, attuned assertiveness, right timing or nature of feedback. Through attuned moment-to-moment communication and syncronized rhythm between the human and the horse co-created systemic dance and nonverbal exchange carries potentially deeply healing possibilities for human. It seems clear to us that the benefits can be extended further by reflective practices and insights are transferable to other systems of one’s life with beneficial outcomes.

Our work continues and we start two new groups on February and March 2017. Are you interested? Read further in Finnish…

Contact us:
Henriika Maiku
henriika@soulteam.fi
www.soulteam.fi

Something to read

Bachi, K. (2013). Application of Attachment Theory to Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy. J Contemp Psychother. 43,187-196.

Barge, K. & Fairhurst, G. T. (2008). Living Leadership: A Systemic Constructionist Approach. Leadership. 4(3), 227–251.

Clark, A. (1997). Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Gehrke, E. K. (2009). Developing Coherent Leadership in Partnership with Horses – A New Approach to Leadership Training. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching. 2(1):222-233.

Gergen , K., J. (2011). Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition. New York: Bantam Dell.

Goodwin, D., McGreevy, P. Waran, N. & McLean, A. (2009). How equitation science can elucidate and refine horsemanship techniques. The Veterinary Journal, 181:5-11.

Frewin, K. & Gardiner, B. (2005). New Age or Old Sage? A review of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. The Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology. 6:13-17.

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen E. & Jones R. (2014).Being Better Better – Living with System Intelligence. Systems Analysis Laboratory. Aalto University.

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen E. (2007). Systems intelligence in leadership and everyday life. Systems Analysis Laboratory. Aalto University.

Kelly, S. (2013). Horses for Courses: Exploring the Limits of Leadership Development through Equine-Assisted Learning. Journal of Management Education. 1-18.

Klontz, B. T., Bivens, A., Leinart, D. & Klontz, T. (2007). The Effectiness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial. Society and Animals, 15, 257-267.

Kupers, W. M. (2013). Embodied inter-practices of leadership – Phenomenological perspectives on relational and responsive leading and following. Leadership, 9(3), 335-357.

Levinson, B. M. (1962). The dog as a ‘co-therapist’. Mental Hygiene, 46, 59-65.

Martela, F. & Saarinen, E. (2013). The Systems Metaphor in Therapy Discourse: Introducing Systems Intelligence. Systems Analysis Laboratory. Aalto University.

Selby, A. & Smith-Osborne A. (2013). A Systematic Review of Effectiveness of Complementary and Adjunct Therapies and Interventions Involving Equines. Health Psyhology. 32(4), 418-432.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.)

Sheldon, K., Kashdan B. & Steger, F. (2011) (Toim.). Designing Positive Psychology. Taking Stock and Moving Forward. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shusterman, R. (2012). Thinking Through the Body. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Törmänen, J. (2012). Systems Intelligence Inventory. The Master Thesis. Aalto University. School of Science.

Vidrine, M., Owen-Smith, P. & Faulker, P. (2002). Equine-Facilitated Group Psychotherapy: Applications for Therapeutic Vaulting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 23, 587-603.

Wilson, T., D. (2002). Strangers to Ourselves – Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.