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What is Equine Facilitated Mental Health ("EFMH")

EFMH is a form of experiential Animal Assisted Therapy ("AAT"), which incorporates interactions with horses into a counselling setting and relationship. There are a small but growing number of people practicing EFMH in Canada and each program is unique depending on the background and focus of the practitioners, and the client base served. The approach followed at Healing Hooves brings together aspects of different fields including AAT, person centered counselling, play therapy, experiential learning, therapeutic riding and natural horsemanship. The result is a uniquely effective form of counselling, grounded in a growing body of research, which draws upon the human animal bond to facilitate healing and growth through contact with horses.

Each EFMH session is tailored to the specific needs and objectives of the individual client, family or group so can vary greatly. Sessions may involve specifically designed groundwork exercises with the horses, grooming, riding or simply talking with the counsellor while doing horse related activities. Discussions may start in the context of the horse and the activity and then gradually transfer to the parallel issues/ learnings in the client's life.

Clients who can be reached through EFMH approaches also vary widely - for example, Healing Hooves' clients include children and adults with anxiety, depression, attachment issues, eating disorders, parent teen conflict, survivors and perpetrators of violence, abuse and neglect. Many of our clients have been non responsive to/ non compliant with more traditional counselling approaches.

EFMH sessions are delivered by a fully credentialed mental health therapist with specific training in EFMH, preferably in partnership with an appropriately credentialed horse professional, who also has specific training in EFMH. The challenge for many people entering this field is finding this 'specific training in EFMH'. For the past five years I have been providing both mental health professionals and horse professionals with training in EFMH, but as an individual organization I will not 'certify' people in this area (although the workshops do earn continuing education credits for many professionals). EFMH-Canada - chaired by myself and Sue Cressy - has been formed as a special branch of CanTRA to develop a nationally recognised certification process for EFMH. This fall EFMH-Canada will be focusing on defining goals and timelines in the areas of standards of practice, training, certification, resources and research. It is expected that the certification process will be similar to the existing CanTRA process for Assistant, Intermediate and Instructor certification, as in having a technical evaluation followed by an exam. We also envision having separate, but coordinated, tracks for the mental health professional and the horse professional, and incorporating the pre-existing Healing Hooves workshops into the training/ preparation for certification. EFMH-Canada will also be offering some form of 'Mental Health track' at the CanTRA conference in April 2007.

You may find more information regarding this field at www.narha.org (look for EFMHA) and www.eagala.org. These are both US organizations which have a slightly different approach but provide some good resources. We are endeavoring to create a uniquely Canadian approach with EFMH-Canada with a high standard of certification that will lend credibility, professionalism, education and training to this new field.

Sue McIntosh, MA, CCC, 2001

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