A psychotherapeutic riding program: An existential theater for healing

Jane M. Karol (1999)

Recent research has shown that animals, both companion and farm animals, can have a therapeutic effect on individuals suffering from varied psychological problems. This dissertation reviews the available literature and proposes a design for a therapeutic program based on the fostering of a relationship between a client and a horse or horses. Hippopsychotherapy, or therapy employing the horse as a means toward healing, makes use of both the traditional therapeutic relationship between clinician and client, and the unique relationship between horse and client. The program does not rely on any specific theory; rather, it is essentially metatheoretical, insofar as it allows a clinician to apply his/her individual theoretical preferences to the hippopsychotherapy format. The model delineates five theoretical and clinical elements which in effect come to serve as an existential theater for the clients psychodynamic world. These are the relationship between the therapist/instructor and the client; the relationship between the client and the horse; the therapeutic use of the here and now; the pre-verbal or primitive experience that is fundamental to riding and caring for a horse; and the development of the client's nonverbal communication skills and awareness. A review and rationale are followed by case examples and a clinical structure for the therapy. A short discussion section regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the program, and possible future research concludes the dissertation.