The Quick Answer

Only if you plan to offer counselling services! If you plan to work in Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL), or as an Equine Professional (EP) who partners with a Mental Health Professional (MHP), there is no requirement to be a counsellor or MHP. If you plan to deliver mental health services and/or to work with people with mental health diagnoses or needs then yes, you need to be (or partner with) a certified mental health professional such as a counsellor, psychologist or social worker.

Within the broader Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) field, to deliver AAT you need to be a credentialed therapist.  What type of therapist depends on your AAT scope of practice and may or may not be a counsellor. To deliver Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) you do not have to be a therapist. 

Note: If you are unsure of any of the terminology or acronyms we are using please refer to our last blog post where we defined and reviewed these terms for you.

The Longer Answer

If you plan to work with clients with mental health diagnoses or needs and/ or to support clients with mental health related goals (such as recovery from trauma or addictions) in the EFW field, then this work is defined as Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH). To deliver mental health services you need to either be a certified mental health professional (MHP), or to partner with a certified MHP, regardless of whether you are incorporating animals into your work or not. This helps keep everyone safe, physically and emotionally, including your clients, your equine partners and yourself.

This usually requires a minimum of a bachelors degree in a related area with additional practicum requirements and more often required a masters degree. For some credentials in some provinces you will need a PhD, extensive practicum requirements, and/or additional licensing testing, such as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) required to be a registered psychologist in Alberta.  Once certified, your specific scope of practice within the mental health field is defined in part by your certification and regulatory body/ies.

Note: The term “counsellor’ has recently (as of December 2018) become a regulated term in Alberta as the terms psychologist and social worker have been for many years. This will take some time to fully roll out but it essentially requires all who describe themselves as a counsellor to be certified, meet minimum education and training requirements, and hold membership in a recognised regulatory professional body. In some other provinces these and other related terms have been regulated for many years, in some there is no such regulation. If you are interested you can find more information on this situation here.

But the Equine Facilitated Wellness field is broad, flexible and varied!

EFW includes the highly valuable and varied area of Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) which does NOT require you to be a counsellor or MHP. This includes EFW work in the areas of coaching, team building, personal growth, skills building, literacy and more. You can also work as an Equine Professional (EP), either focusing on therapeutic horsemanship, or partnering with a MHP or EFL Professional to offer services in the areas of EFL and/ or EFMH.

There are lots of options and ways to do this work.

Whether the approach being followed in any particular case is EFMH or EFL depends on a number of factor including the needs of the population being worked with and the focus of the work. A key aspect of the Professional Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness (Pro EFW) approved training process is to help each participant define and communicate their own unique Scope of Practice which defines the parameters for their EFW work and determines the nature of their certification with Pro EFW.

Your Scope of Practice is unique to you and will reflect and be built upon your life and work experience, your education, and your credentials – with both people and with horses. It will also reflect both the population/s you plan to work with, and the approach/es you plan to follow. We help you develop and fine tune this scope of practice throughout your training journey.

In our experience most people underestimate the wealth of experience and skills they already possess – with both people and horses – which are relevant to what they plan to develop within the EFW field.

We all, regardless of the extent and nature of our training and credentials, need to define and communicate what is we can, should and want to do, with both people and horses; as well as what is outside of our scope of practice. If we don’t do this, we risk doing harm to our clients, our horses and ourselves. This includes situations where we define our scope in one area but in reality are stepping into work which is actually outside of that scope. This can apply to both our scope of practice with people and our scope of practice with horses.

Rather than limiting us, Scope of Practice empowers us to focus on the areas where we are competent and confident, and to communicate this clearly to our clients. I found defining my own scope of practice to be both reassuring and liberating. It helped me better define to myself, the agencies I work with, and prospective clients what it is I am qualified and able to do, and what I am not. It also allows me, when presented with a request to do work with a population or in an area (of either human services or horsemanship) where I do not have enough experience or expertise to say, “I’m sorry, but that falls outside of my scope of practice, let me refer you to someone who has the training in that area.”

And I do.

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Next Question in the series: Do I need my own Horses and Facility ?

What about you? If you have any questions you’d like us to answer in this series, or questions on any of the above material, please use the comments section below!

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