Horses that Heal through DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)
Many of my readers have shared how animals play a role in their recovery from Mental Health symptoms and in their ongoing management of symptoms. Inspired by their stories, I looked into programs that integrate animal therapy into their practice.
This feature is about an organization called Trillium Family Services in Oregon, where horses are instrumental in teaching DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills to those with emotion regulation issues, such as Borderline Personality Disorder.
Hi Debbie! Horses are helpful in the instruction of DBT skills for several reasons. First, they are very responsive animals. Due to their natural standing as “prey” animals, they are always aware of their surroundings and are able to read and respond to their environment at all times. This natural response by the horses is something we utilize as instructors to demonstrate specific DBT skills.
- Wise Mind:
For example, in teaching wise mind; the balance between the emotional mind and the logical mind. We can demonstrate what a response by each “mind” (emotional, logical and then wise mind) looks like by using the horses to do demonstrations.
- Emotional Mind:For Emotional Mind, we often have a couple horses loose in the arena with an instructor or a client who walks up to them with something strange looking. This could be a hoola hoop, a foam pool noodle, a tarp etc. The horses consistently will make a snap judgment and perk their ears, look at it and turn and run away. They don’t know what it is so they just get away from it.
- Logical Mind:For Logical mind, we will present the horses with something they are used to and will produce a response that doesn’t involve much emotion. We might bring some food in to the arena, the horses without being too concerned of their surroundings will go right over and eat it. They will easily just get right into a rhythm of eating and no longer care much about the strange looking items that are in a pile in the corner of the arena. This is a way to demonstrate how only using the logical mind; the horses see food, they go eat it.
- Wise Mind: Now we combine the two to make the horses help us demonstrate “Wise Mind”. To do this, we might put their food and the previously scary object together. The horses will often get scared, run away, come back, try to get to the food, sniff the object, touch the object, carefully investigate, pause, and just watch the items for a while, etc. Eventually the horses will eat the food right next to the scary objects because they were able to balance their emotional response and their logical response without letting one completely take over.
Most definitely. Activities like this provide a real and interactive way to better understand and experience DBT skills. We can use these little demonstrations as talking points in the group to come up with other examples of using only your emotional mind or only your logical mind in tackling a situation.
Lastly, horses are intriguing animals to people. They are exciting and novel feeling to be around. This creates an engaging environment in which to learn and practice because people want to interact with the horses and their experiences are real and memorable.
- “I enjoyed interaction with the horses while learning DBT skills and learning about the horses and how to care for them.” – Female, age 16
- “I loved learning new things while relating it to horses.” – Female, age 15
- “I like being with the horses because I’m more at home with horses, and I can be their equal.” –Female, age 13
- “It helps build relationships with my peers. It also builds trust and skills for my future.” — Male, age 16
- “The best thing about DBT with Horses is that you work with the real deal. It’s not in a clinic. — Female, age 17
- “My favorite thing about DBT with Horses is that we get to incorporate ever day things with the horses, like emotions and social situations; including the social pyramid.” — Female, age 16
Here are some photos from my readers who consider their pets to be very therapeutic as they pursue a life worth living:
|Natalie and her “therapy dog” Mae|
|Daisey the “therapy beagle,” and her sidekick, Moose
the cat. From reader Ann.
|Susan’s “therapy cat” Jazz|