I define wellness by balancing the four quadrants of health: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. While we all have different meanings for what wellness in each quadrant looks like, when one is out of balance the whole always suffers. This is how I view holistic health and healing.
Both personally and professionally I have found no greater proponent of promoting balanced wellness, especially for trauma survivors and high-risk youth, than the horse. As a high-risk youth myself, my lived-experience found equines to help redefine all the deficiencies I found within myself: self-esteem and self-efficacy, learning and testing boundaries, and connections and relationship building, to name just a few.
Horses won’t be the catalyst for everyone that they were for me. But I work to incorporate the lessons I’ve learned about self-regulation, attachment, and developing one’s sense of self inter and intra - personally, into an integrative and dynamic approach to counselling.
I incorporate elements of humanistic theory including person-centred therapy (PCT), directive cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and attachment theory into my practice. And where appropriate of course, animal-assisted therapy (AAT). The integration of individual, systemic, and empiricist values allows me to meet my client’s exactly where they’re at, and together we can develop a process to suit your unique and evolving needs.
PCT is well-suited to diverse populations, as it honours the subjective reality of the individual. The implication of subjective reality is that your experiences and beliefs are accepted as true for you, regardless of culture or context. PCT tends to be individualist in nature, preferring the development of self independent from community. Is this does not sound like the right fit for you, we will work together to develop a process of therapy that includes consideration of your collective community, perhaps through an attachment-theory or CBT lens.
AAT is only applied to therapy when we both determine the application of animals into the process to be a good fit. If we do decide to go ahead with an AAT component, the equine or canine will be carefully chosen for their complimentary qualities.
Human beings have the innate proclivity to strive towards wellness, personal growth, and connection. I believe that experiences are subjective, which means that I accept the personal truth of each individual, and believe that they are doing the best that they can with the tools that they have.
The way that you experience events indicate your internal processes, or working models. Individual working models, or the beliefs, thoughts and reactions to experiences, determine your feelings and behaviours. These cognitive processes become habitual and are developed over time. One of the biggest influencers to this working model is the attachments, or relationships, that we develop over time, and especially in our early caregiver relationships.
Our early relationships influence the way we behave in our adult relationships, though these processes, feelings, and beliefs can be redefined through conscious attention and by working towards the type of relationships we really want with ourselves and with others.
The messages we receive as we grow and develop come to inform our sense of self. If we receive messages that we are unworthy of love and care we will internalize those ideas and conduct ourselves according to our perceived defects.
When our sense of self is inconsistent with what we expect, or what we feel other’s expect of us, we feel inadequate, ineffective, and unworthy. This develops feelings of shame and fear, promotes disconnection, and leads to toxic stress over time. If our internal working models propagate these negative emotions, our thoughts and behaviours will be self-destructive and will put strain on our relationships. Emotional disregulation is one such process of dysfunction. A core objective of maturity is developing the ability to self-regulate, but this process is determined by attuned relationships and co-regulation early in life. If a child does not learn to self-regulate, they are likely to grow into adults that are often victim to their out-of-control emotional natures.
If these habits persist unchallenged, we will negatively spiral, exacerbating our symptoms of metal health disturbances such as anxiety and depression.
Theory of Change
Issues arise from both historical experiences such as trauma, and current dysfunction such as unhealthy relationship or self-talk patterns. In order to address this, we must work both in the here and now, which will help to address present dysfunctional processes, and work with past experiences, to address the root cause of pervasive issues.
Developing emotional intelligence can act as means to address emotional disregulation. CBT and AAT can be effective means to promote mindfulness, increasing emotional intelligence and regulation. If appropriate, equine assisted therapy is well suited to this goal, as equines live as herd animals, developing social and emotional intelligence as means of survival.
By fostering healthy attachments, you will be able to re-wire your attachment styles, and create safe, secure, and supportive relationships. If you can develop these types of relationships with others, you can also foster empathy, esteem, and efficacy within yourself, or vice-versa, depending on your unique process.
It is extremely important to me that I operate from an evidence-based and empirically supported position. The four approaches outlined above are supported by evidence through research and scholarly dialogue, as is the application of one theory, such as attachment, to another model, such as CBT. Both AAT and attachment-theory are supported by literature as effective means in which to enhance more traditional models of therapy, such as PCT and CBT.
I draw from empirically supported treatments in order to address specific symptoms, but do not rely on these exclusively, as there is evidence to support alternative process outcomes as well. Psychology research struggles to identify preference for any one model over another.
A common thread throughout my practice is the utilization of common factors shown to improve the outcome of therapy. These factors include: therapist empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard for their clients; client motivation and autonomy; and a strong therapeutic relationship which relies on collaboration and feedback. While it is difficult to prove one model’s effectiveness over another, the research supports the development of these common factors to increase effectiveness in therapy.
Integration is key to my practice of psychotherapy. Because I work both in the past and present, I need to incorporate models that value both tenses of work. I want to address both past trauma and current symptoms so I need to be flexible with my ability to draw from various models and processes. Because each client is unique and ever evolving, we need to be able to work together to set goals and determine the type of process that is going to best serve them, and be ready to adapt that plan as things change.
There are many models of psychotherapy, and many correct ways to do any one thing. While it is my job to understand theories and be able to apply specific processes from each, I do not cling too tightly to any one model, an approach known as technical eclecticism. I work to stay up to date on current-best-practices, incorporate appropriate models of therapy in congruence with my client’s identified goals for therapy, and operate from an evidence-based approach through promoting common factors.