The Quick Answer

There are many certification options in the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW) fields, meaning this can be an overwhelming and confusing topic at first. For reasons I discuss in more depth below, the Canadian certification program I usually recommend for EFW is through Equine Facilitated Wellness – Canada (EFW-Can). EFW-Can have a credible and flexible certification approach for people who are seeking certification in EFW as a mental health, equine facilitated learning and/ or equine professional. It is possible to certify in one, two or all three of these areas.

AAT training is a whole other area which will need to be the subject of another article, but two organisations I regularly recommend are Pet Partners and Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy.

The Longer Answer

This is a lengthy topic with several professional associations, and an increasing number of private businesses, offering certification programs. Some of these programs also offer initial and ongoing training that they require you to attend in order to attain and then maintain their certification, others programs are independent of those delivering the training. Each program come with different requirements in terms of both pre-existing credentials, training and other requirements including practicums, personal growth, mentoring, and continuing education, and lead to different types of certification. 

Our aim at Healing Hooves is to help each individual find the certification and training route which fits best for them and their situation. This is usually most effective as a conversation which takes into consideration both the person’s individual goals in EFW and pre-existing credentials and experience. For the purposes of this article I will stick to some guiding principles and highlight some of the key options available. We provide and explore more in depth details of several options, and help people apply these to their personal goals and situations, within our Exploration Training program.

Considerations in Selecting a Certification Program 

Firstly I believe that an EFW or AAT certification program should speak to and assess your training, skills and credentials in all of the following areas:

  1. The human service you plan to provide (e.g. counselling, education, or leadership);
  2. The animal you plan to work with (e.g. horses, dogs, or llamas);
  3. The EFW approach you intend to follow; and
  4. The population you plan to work with (e.g veterans, parents, or youth at risk).

All of these come together to form your Scope of Practice in EFW and/ or AAT.  You can find more discussion of the above recommendations, including through a case study example, in our earlier article The Certification Conundrum.

Secondly I believe that an EFW or AAT certification program needs to have a strong focus on safety and ethics.
This is complex within both EFW and AAT as there are many different needs to consider, including those of the clients, the horses and the facilitators, which can at times seem to conflict.  There are also several different aspects of safety, for example emotional safety as well as physical, which apply. The flexibility and variety within the fields of EFW and AAT also create different considerations and risk factors. Thus a certification program needs to find a way to be comprehensive enough in all of the above areas to be credible, yet at the same time flexible enough to be practical.

Finally, I believe that credible and effective certification in any area is best achieved by an organization that is not also in the business of providing the required training.
This removes the conflicting interests (actual and perceived) of personal gain and ensures that the focus is upon developing standards and certifying professionals that will best serve the needs and protect the interests of our clients and of our horses. This also follows International and Canadian best standards that call for the clear separation of certification and training as detailed in ISO/IEC 17024, Conformity assessment – General Requirements for bodies operating certification of persons. The only programs I am aware of following these requirements are EFW Canada in Canada, and PATH and the CBEIP in the US.

The certification program that I have found does all of the above the best in Canada for EFW, and thus recommend for most people, is from Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada.

That being said, I feel it important to provide information about the other options, to empower people to assess for themselves which is the best option for them, and for the situations when EFW Canada may not be the best option.

An example of this may be if you plan to work within a Therapeutic Riding program (usually as a partnership between a mental health professional and a Therapeutic Riding instructor) in which case the CanTRA program may be the better fit for you. CanTRA utilises a US exam based program from the Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (CBEIP) and certify you for working with one client and one horse at a time.

Other options for certification include PATH International, EAGALA and Epona.

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Next Question in the Series: How Long Does it Take, and How Much Does it Cost, to Certify?

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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