TRAUMA IN HUMAN AND HORSES - PART II
Trauma and being's welfare are on the top of my mind. Trauma is a topic that I work with daily. There are many people who "seek" my help, who view me as an expert.
Why do I write "beings"? Because it is welfare for all, not just horses. Adding horses to the treatment approach opens up the can of worms that there are more team members - humans and horses - and horses do not speak the human language - or rather, humans do not speak the horse language. So we put our labels on them - explain their behavior, teach others how we are to interpret their behavior and their language.
Bear with me please: I always joke: when two horse people meet, there are at least three expert opinions floating around. When two psychologists or counselors meet, there are at least three expert opinons floating around. The only ones who are clear(er) in that mix are the clients and the horses - horses because they won't argue in human language, and clients because most often they do not dare speak when in the company of experts. Both are typically ignored, not heard, not seen, due to so much "expert" knowledge.
Yes, I wrote this statement, and I stand behind it.
It is complex. And I am worried that this statement in itself will again raise eyebrows and will lead to me being criticized, as my words are taken as personal offense.
Let's look at the additional factor influencing personal (emotional) reactions: the complexity of psychological distress leads to us having a wast amount of emotional reactions. Beings do not seek help unless they feel incapable of doing it on their own. As "helpers" and people who care, we "see" and "know" things about "symptoms": clients and horses have no say - their behavior is typically being interpreted. "My horse is lame" - "my horse has a sore back" - "my horse will not cooperate", "help me!"... - "I have nightmares" - "I can not go outside" - "I am depressed"- "I want to kill myself" - "help me!" Consequently, there are two "patients" and two experts - perceived - in any Equine Assisted Interactive program.
And so we engage. Most people in our profession really, really want to help and do good. Focusing on the apparent needs, relying on their expert knowledge, and doing what has been taught by others or by experience. What else can we do?
Now comes the provocative part: I will dare say:
- Most horses are not being seen for how they are but how we view and read them. To this date, I have not met a program or teacher that teaches otherwise. I have met very, very few people in the past decades who "understand" horse - and most of them will not share their knowledge publicly for fear of not being heard, not being understood and criticized for what they are saying!!
I will repeat: Most horses are labeled, categorized, interpreted, and mis-treated by having this experience. I will add that most horses are fine with it.
- Most "clients" (be it humans or horses) are not "sick/traumatized". It is not the traumatic event that creates PTS(d), it is the reactions and experiences afterwards that cause the dis-order. In that, we as providers MUST be aware of how we support the beings' perception of being sick - incapable - dys-function - symptomatic
- The difference why most horses are fine with (singular) traumatic events and humans are not is because humans are mostly not living and experiencing life in the here and now. Horses are. I will add: we could learn so much from horses!!! So when the environment keeps re-enacting and viewing horses are traumatized/limited in their capacity, the environment brings the past into the here and now and leads to re-traumatization and enabling the being being stuck in the past - reliving the trauma. Humans can and will do this on their own and keep re-enacting the past, unconsciously. Humans are not in the here and now most of the time. Here I am referring to both identified clients and providers.
- Horses are very good learners in that they consistently adapt to their environment and will show their environment what is expected of them. Do we view them as traumatized? They will show it to us that they are. This addresses one of the core concept of Equine Assisted Interactive programs that many unquestioningly adapt: do they mirror? I firmly believe they do NOT. I believe they respond to "what is", in the here and now - and thus re-create what is expected by the other to be seen, be it by the "client", but most often to the EAP team and horse owners as well.
I publicly asked the question the other day: can horses be traumatized? The note evolved from questions and discussions where I voiced my strong dislike against putting labels such as "dissociation" on horses. One of many clinical terms, that providers use frequently when with clients, in an effort to educate and as an indicator for an intervention. Important interventions. We have concepts that describe to us when a person is capable of listening, e.g. the window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is an important theoretical constuct when working with people, if one wishes to be heard by the client.
But here is the crux: "when one wishes to be heard".
What does it mean when a being is showing "dys-functional" behaviors? When a student does not learn, can not function and shows symptoms of (physical and psychological) pains? Especially when we are being asked to help, intervene, "fix"? We react, because it does something to our perception. We focus on the dys-function - the dis-order - the symptom - the category, all in an effort to help. We employ theories and language and tools - and it all affects our perception again. A vicious cycle develops and continues, self propelled.
Let me provide you with a couple of quotes that include what I am trying to put into words here:
- "Lend me your eyes I can change what you see" Grace (anonymous) but "but lend me your heart and I'll just let you fall". To me, this quote is about being able to "see"/perceive the other without one's own shortcoming, past experiences, one's one perception. Being able to fully perceive from another's perspective - without judgment, and WITH awareness of how that conflicts with how one perceives on his own.
- "Horses act the way they feel. To them, the behaviour they exhibit has no value whatsoever, such as it being "good" or "bad". The human, on the other hand, often puts value on horse behaviour - seeing it as one or another - and responds to it in kind, with the response usually being driven by emotion. That, quite often, is when the trouble begins." ~ Mark Rashid.
- "I don't want you to save me - I want you to stand by my side while I will save myself." (client name withheld). This quote is from a client of mine who is, despite severe complex PTS(d) symptoms, is able to speak for himself and voiced a strong need. He KNOWS what helps him, even though it goes against all medical model strategies. He suffers - he is in pain - and does not comply with the typical treatments - and unconsciously, he plays out past behaviors and gives out mixed messages when he is not doing well (and most will respond to this and "mother" him). Understanding and listening to him - his words - has enabled us to work together. SEEING and LISTENING to him as a prerequisite of actually meeting his need of being helped.
- No quote, but a statement I live by: I can not FIX another person - and my job is to make sure that I accompany a person where they are, in the speed they move, every step of the way, without judging, interfering, interjecting. I respond to the here and now without interjecting my own (personal) views on the event. I try, to the best of my ability, to be like a horse - without adapting to the person in front of me (because then I may develop symptoms myself).
Do I wish to criticize those who are teaching other approaches? Supporting a cycle that - by not seeing, by not listening, keeps a person in his self-perceived stance of not being on eye level with anybody around them? No. There are few EAP programs that do not work - luckily - because, imo, the only "neutral" part is the horse and horses are immensely capable of adapting to their environment and will continue to self care (if the opportunity is there for them and their basic needs are being considered) - and will respond differently than the human treatment team members. BUT: this is equine welfare again - placing something onto another being without taking into consideration the cost of it. So in a way I am criticizing. I want to raise questions on this current development that is continuing to put horses into categories such as "trauma", categories that take away our ability to really see horses for horses. Horses are not a projection of our unconscious and unknown thoughts - not a projection of our wishes. Horses are separate beings who speak their own language and who have their own perception. I feel strongly about ensuring equine welfare and I wish that anybody teaching on and about horses practiced more self awareness. When it comes to teaching about horses and providing "care" to those who seek help - what is the goal behind teaching anybody? How is that perception impaired by one's own personal experiences? What is the need to see trauma in horses and trauma in people - what is the need to put them into categories? Why is it not possible to simply see beings for who they are - and simply stand by the side while trusting the person who seeks help to be? If we are not in the here and now - how can we assist others in attaining this?
copyright Ilka Parent, Minds-n-Motion
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