am standing next to a mare who is nudging her velvety nostrils at me. The last time I was this close to a horse, I was eating one at a restaurant in Kazakhstan. But now we are at a farm in east London, and Annie doesn't know that.
I have come to the Mudchute Equestrian Centre to to sample equine-utilised psychotherapy. With me is Don Lavender, an American psychotherapist who has been using horses to help treat addicts for 16 years. The therapy can be used for eating disorders, relationship issues and "any activity that a human engages in where they are distanced from themselves emotionally".
Lavender has worked at the Sierra Tucson treatment centre in Arizona, which pioneered the therapy. He sets the client tasks and notes their reactions. "The way that I treat myself and other people in relationships is often the way I'll wind up treating the horse," says Lavender, who works with a horse handler. "It's up to the horse professional to observe the behaviour of the horse, and the mental health professional to observe what's going on with the human.
"One of the things that assists with the pychotherapeutic component is identifying the anthropomorphisms that happen - people applying human qualities to the animal. Maybe the horse turns away, and they say it's just like their partner, or their parents who won't deal with them. People will believe that the horse turns away because it doesn't like them."
Lavender believes that horses are an important tool in teaching clients to communicate. Addicts, he says, are preoccupied with fulfilling their own desires. "They're basically operating from a narcissistic posture and if they're going to get anything accomplished with the horse they're going to have to step outside of themselves and interact, communicate and be open to another creature."
The therapy, said to have helped Sophie Anderton and Robert Downey Jnr, can also be used for couples and small groups. Individuals may have six to 12 sessions as part of regular therapy.
Source - Independent