How It works
“I have had many ‘talk therapies’ in my life, but this was totally different and very powerful – I could step away from my usual intellectualizing and just be and maybe it was this that enabled me to gain so much insight and to really ‘cut through’ stuff. This therapy has really changed things for me. I have noticed less fear and more inner stability.” (client with a history of domestic violence and mental health diagnosis, after six one-hour EAGALA sessions).
EAGALA Model Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy and Personal Development are experiencing rapid growth around the globe.
Why? In two words: STRONG OUTCOMES. Equine-assisted work often helps clients change and grow more effectively and quickly than traditional clinical and psycho-educational approaches.
That’s because people typically learn best by doing. Life lessons take deeper root when individuals both understand them in their heads and experience them in their bodies. Working with horses is engaging, real-time, and hands-on. The experience is immediate and fully felt.
So why horses and not other animals?
Horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, despite those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.
Horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods; an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses are a lot like us socially – when we work on our relationships with them, we in turn are learning how to improve our relationships with others.
Horses respond with unique insight into exactly who we are in the moment. They are profoundly gifted reflectors of our true selves because their very survival depends on reading us right.
Because they can read and respond to the nonverbal messages we are always sending, they begin to act in ways that feel familiar to other relationships or dynamics in our lives. They become our spouse, partner, colleague, children, dreams, fears, addictions, etc., and begin to act out these very dynamics in our lives. This gives us a chance to work through those relationships and issues in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.
A client may say, “This horse is stubborn. That horse doesn’t like me,” etc. The lesson is that by changing ourselves, the horses respond differently. They provide this immediate feedback to real changes that we make – not what we just talk about.
For some reason, even when we feel stuck or hopeless, the horses move and make changes in the space, which in turn helps us become “unstuck.” Clients repeatedly report that the horses seem to act and be exactly what is needed at the moment.
It’s all on the ground
EAGALA sessions involve no horseback riding. Why? In this work, the horses can be themselves and not have to act a certain way, just like our clients can do. This is a space to explore, be ourselves, and build relationships on equal footing.
Solution-oriented for all ages
EAGALA sessions are facilitated by a certified team of mental health professionals and equine specialists who hold the space for clients and horses to interact. Life stories begin unfolding symbolically in a safe and supportive setting. We believe that clients of all ages and needs truly have their own best solutions. As the horses play out scenarios, clients gain insights and begin to see and feel shifts in themselves as well.
Video Testimonial: Power Tools for Living
Power Tools for Living is an EAGALA Model program designed to develop and strengthen emotional intelligence skills to increase resilience and healthy behaviors. It has been used with schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and foster care with significant success in increasing:
- social and emotional skills
- conflict resolution
- ability to self-correct and regulate
- school attendance and grades
and decreasing bullying and behavior problems in the classrooms. School officials share their experiences with the program.
There is a growing body of evidence for the EAGALA Model equine-assisted psychotherapy. The publications listed below are papers describing research investigating EAGALA. They have been published in peer-reviewed journals, indicating they have passed the scrutiny of experts in the scientific community. Although these articles present data on the benefits of the EAGALA Model, the list contains a limited number of articles and each article has limitations. However, this does not mean the effects of the EAGALA Model are limited. Rather, it is a reflection of a field in its early stages and illustrates the need for more research.
Current Published Studies contributing to the evidence base of the EAGALA Model:
- Nurenberg, R. et al (2014). Animal-assisted therapy with chronic psychiatric inpatients: Equine-assisted psychotherapy and aggressive behavior. Psychiatric Services in Advance, Oct. 1-7.
- EAGALA Model: The study included 90 hospitalized psychiatric patients who had recent violent or regressed Participants were randomly selected to one of the following groups for 10 weeks: EAGALA Model EAP, canine group, social skills group, or routine hospital activities (control group). Found that those in the EAGALA group showed the largest decrease in violent behavior as measured by incidents of violent behavior (hospital tracking system).
- Kemp, Signal, T., Botros, H., Taylor, N., Prentice, K. (2013). Equine facilitated therapy with children and adolescents who have been sexually abused: A program evaluation study. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23, 558-566.
- EAGALA EAGALA Model EAP intervention for adolescents who experienced sexual abuse & trauma – measured psychological distress and found significant improvements in functioning after the equine intervention.
A pilot study is a small-scale preliminary study conducted to evaluate whether something can be done (feasibility) and improves upon the study design before the performance of a full-scale. A pilot study can thus provide useful information as to whether it is worthwhile conducting a larger scale study and help determine the sample size needed to detect a significant effect. Below are pilot studies with promising results that would be great to see replicated on a larger scale:
- Whittlesey-Jerome, K. (2014). Adding equine-assisted psychotherapy to conventional treatments: A pilot study exploring ways to increase adult self-efficacy among victims of interpersonal violence. The Practitioner Scholar: Journal of Counseling and Professional Psychology, 3, 82-101.
- EAGALA Model: Pilot study looking at adding EAGALA Model EAP to existing conventional treatment for victims of interpersonal Found that EAGALA group had more improvement with self-efficacy, depression, and general functioning.
- Schultz, N., Remick‐Barlow, G., & Robbins, L. (2007). Equine‐assisted psychotherapy: A mental health promotion/intervention modality for children who have experienced intra‐family violence. Health & Social Care in the Community, 15 (3), 265-271.
- EAGALA Model: A pilot study investigating the efficacy of EAP in children referred for psychotherapy for mental health and behavioral issues in a one-group pretest-posttest quasi-experiment. GAF scores improved from pretest to posttest; improvements were positively correlated with a number of EAP
- Black, (2016). Combating compassion fatigue in community care professionals using the EAGALA model. Counseling Australia, Winter, 8-13.
o EAGALA Model: A pilot study investigating the efficacy of the EAGALA Model to treat compassion fatigue in community care professionals. A group of 10 professionals self-selected to participate in a 7-session group program following the EAGALA Model.
Compassion, compassion fatigue, and burnout were measured at pre and post-test. Results showed significant decreases in compassion fatigue and burnout and increases in compassion satisfaction at posttest. Emotional awareness and emotional management of others also increase significantly.
- Whittlesey-Jerome K., Schultz, P. N., & Tomaka, J. (2016). Adding equine-assisted psychotherapy to conventional treatment: A case study of adolescent resilience among charter high school students. Pediatrics & Therapeutics 6 , (1), 1-10.
- A case study comparing effects of EAGALA Model group sessions and psychoeducational group sessions on resiliency in charter school Participants were in pre-existing groups, each attending four 2-hour weekly sessions over one month. The data showed trends in improvements in mastery and relatedness in the EAGALA group over and above those found in the nonequivalent control group. However, these differences were not statistically significant. Replication with larger samples and random assignment to groups is warranted.
Non-empirical articles discussing EAGALA Model EAP:
- Notgrass, G., & Pettinelli, J. D. (2015). Equine-assisted psychotherapy: The equine-assisted growth and learning association’s model overview of equine-based modalities. Journal of Experiential Education, 38 (2), 162-174.
- EAGALA Model: Non-empirical journal article describing the EAGALA
* Please note studies are reviewed approximately every 6 months. If you are aware of a study that you think should be reviewed for inclusion on this list, please email us at [email protected]