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Equine-Assisted Coaching vs. Equine Therapy

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” [Confucius]

While coaching and therapy share some similarities, the two professions are in many ways significantly different. Read on to learn more about these similarities and differences, particularly in the context of equine assistance.

Welcome to Spiegelbild!

It has always been of great importance to me to be clear about what something is, and what it is not. Spiegelbild employs equine-assisted COACHING. However, the work we do has sometimes been referred to as equine THERAPY. It is, therefore, important to me to explain the similarities and differences of both professions, and to help you understand what you can expect from Spiegelbild’s programs.

First, let’s take a closer look at coaching vs. therapy in general. Later on I’ll dive deeper into the specific differences between equine therapy and equine-assisted coaching.

Therapy, in general, focusses on psychological healing and/or insight; it seeks to help the client resolve pain, and develop coping mechanisms. Therapy is largely focused on the understanding of a patient’s past or history. It intends to bring the unconscious into consciousness and as a result change dysfunctional behaviour patterns. Therapy is offered by a licensed professional. Practitioners are typically required to have a graduate degree and are regulated by a government board. The therapist is the one who sets the agenda and designs a therapy program which responds to a client’s presenting problem.

Coaching, on the other hand, has a strong present and “into-the-future” focus. It aims at unlocking a coachee’s inherent potential and taping into their vision and wisdom. The intended outcome of coaching is to develop sustainable results and actions which help the coachee achieve their full potential in a given coached area. Both the coach and the coachee hold the agenda. Coaching is not a licensed area of profession, and training tends to be far less demanding than what is required of a therapist. However, in recent years therapists have moved into the field of coaching. You might, therefore, find licensed professionals that offer coaching services.

Despite these differences, therapy and coaching share some common features. Both seek to increase self-awareness, observation of self, and behavioural change. Both help people understand their cognitive and emotional reactions, and how these can impact their performance, relationships and well-being. Furthermore, practitioners in both fields share similar skillsets. Both build strong relationships and trust with their clients. They use core competencies, such as deep listening and asking powerful questions to guide a client to increased self-awareness. Both also operate under an understanding of confidentiality.

But what is the difference between equine therapy and equine-assisted coaching? Unfortunately, the water is currently a bit muddied as different terms are being used interchangeably.

As a rule of thumb, like with therapy in general, any form of therapy that involves horses is offered by a licensed professional.

More specifically, equine assisted therapy or counselling, refers to a counsellor offering therapy services to a human client, with the assistance of a horse. Forms of equine assisted therapy include hippotherapy and equine-facilitated psychotherapy

Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational or speech therapy treatment for patients with neuromotor and/or neuromuscular conditions. This kind of therapy utilizes the benefits of a horse’s movement. It requires the participation of a licensed physical or occupational therapist, or a speech/language pathologist.

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy is an interactive process that specifically targets mental health care. Psychotherapy goals, which are defined by a licensed mental health professional and the client, are addressed with the assistance of a horse.

At Spiegelbild we offer equine-assisted coaching, not therapy. We utilize the inherent benefits of being around horses to enhance your personal, professional and leadership development. Horses provide a caring, safe environment for humans to reflect, explore and work on moving forward in their lives. Working with horses offers people a unique experience that mirrors real-life, is non-judgemental and intuitive. What shows up in the human-horse interaction is directly transferable to human-human interactions, whether in one’s private or professional life. Equine-assisted coaching is not yet a licensed field of profession.

At Spiegelbild we involve equine assistance at strategic points throughout your coaching journey. Instead of involving horses in every coaching session, we believe in the benefit of combining equine-assisted sessions with more traditional, private coaching sessions. The equine-assisted sessions create an experiential learning environment for clients to explore their strengths and areas of growth; reflect on what is going on in themselves, and in relationships with others; and gain clarity on their potential way forward. The subsequent private coaching sessions build upon and deepen the insights gained during the equine-assisted sessions, guide a client to discover their inherent potential, and support the development of lasting results.

It is important to understand that both equine therapy and equine-assisted coaching have their distinct roles to play, and both can help a client make meaningful and lasting changes in their life. Equine assisted therapy is the more established field of work, with its benefits being proven and documented. Equine-assisted coaching, in comparison, is less known, and still in the early developmental stages as a profession. Both are carried out by skilled professionals.

Something that is of utmost importance to our programs at Spiegelbild is that we pay equal attention to the physical, emotional and mental well-being of our horse partners as we do for our clients. Our core value of integrity reflects this commitment.

I personally experienced the benefits of therapy and coaching when I was dealing with burnout. Back in 2019 I had successfully completed a high profile, highly demanding project that required regular 12-hour workdays, and very little to no time off for a period of 18 months. As a result, I lost myself. I needed to re-discover my personal purpose, principles and values. I had to re-define what was meaningful to me, and how I wanted to live going forward.

During my time of recovery, I worked with both a therapist and a personal coach in parallel. They targeted different areas of myself. The therapy sessions focussed on exploring in-depth aspects of my past, my key relationships, behavioural patterns, and developing coping mechanisms. My coaching sessions helped me to (re)explore my inherent talents and potentials, as well as what it meant to me to live a life of passion. I came out stronger at the other end, more grounded, and more focused thanks to the help of both professions.

I’m inviting you to take a moment and reflect upon your very own personal needs; what your inherent hopes, dreams and aspirations are, rather than what others may have set up for you. Is there something that’s holding you back from fulfilling those dreams? Do you find yourself at a crossroads in your career? Are you spinning your wheels? Do you want to re-write the story of some of your relationships? In which area of your life might the non-judgemental, caring mirror of a horse offer you a new perspective?

If you are you curious to learn more about equine-assisted coaching, don’t hesitate to book a free 30 minute consultation through our website. We are here to help you grow - one human-horse partnership at a time. I hope you enjoyed this blog. If you did, please sign up with your email to get more interesting insights and perspectives about personal and leadership development, lessons learned from the equine relatives in our lives, and more.

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