Jenny Preston, M.Ed., LPCC
Before joining Chrysalis, Jenny spent three years on the east coast building an equine therapy program for a large adolescent residential treatment facility. Blending trauma-informed care and relationship focused interventions, Jenny developed programming to help adolescents with developmental trauma learn how to cultivate healthy relationships through working with horses. As a clinician, Jenny is passionate about evidence-based trauma treatment. After training with Bessel Van Der Kolk, she continued learning and implementing trauma therapies, such as, Somatic Experiencing and trauma-informed equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently in training for EMDR. Jenny is excited to be back in her community serving children, adolescents and adults.
Bachelors of Arts in Religious Studies, Bethany College
Masters of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Kent State University
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, State of Ohio
Mental Health Specialist & Equine Specialist, EAGALA
This is, by far, the most asked question in the field of equine assisted therapies. What is it?
What makes it different from traditional therapy? What does it look like and how does it work?
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is an experiential modality of therapy that can be implemented for the treatment of mental health disorders. EAP maximizes the therapeutic nature of equines by providing a space to safely explore problematic patterns that have an effect on our functioning, our relationships, and our overall health and wellness.
Horses are honest and will provide genuine feedback, in the moment, about how we enter a space, what we bring with us, and how we relate to others. Horses don’t have hidden agendas, biases, grudges, or bosses to please. When we are implementing new patterns of behavior, we are doing so with a genuine partner who will allow us to try something differently.
EAP is effective with a range of mental health disorders from substance use to trauma. Because of this unique ability to address many concerns, EAP is capable of being applied through many different lenses. This means that honestly defining EAP is nearly impossible because it doesn’t fit nicely inside a box.
This, often times, is a source of frustration for both clients and clinicians because there are no set rules, guidelines, or expectations. EAP maximizes the experiential approach by trusting the process as it unfolds in the moment and leaving our expectations and judgements at the door.
What makes EAP different from other animal assisted therapies? Why do we use horses and not dogs? In other animal assisted interventions, the animal is brought into the therapy session as a source of comfort. The animal is working in conjunction with the already established therapy. With EAP, the horse is not merely an object or utilized to provide comfort, though comfort is certainly found with some clients working with horses.
What makes horses such a powerful partner to co-facilitate with is that, unlike dogs, they do not provide us with unconditional love and acceptance. A horse is a large, powerful animal that thinks for itself, moves for itself, and gets along just fine on its own. Horses and humans must work together to establish an equal partnership and then and only then we will see the benefits of a relationship that includes trust, respect, and love. In EAP, the equine is considered a co-therapist and is entrusted to move clients from places of being stuck to un-stuck.
Horses are relational in nature. They survive in herds. Horses do not think as an “I” but as a “We.” This is remarkably different from how our clients enter treatment, and to extend this further: humans are relational in nature too but often think as an “I” and not a “We.” Because of this, horses and humans are wired for connection and when EAP is done well, both horse and client will experience a relationship built on trust and communication and establish a partnership where both horse and human are respected.
Lastly, horses have a nervous system and a brain that is primed to detect the emotions and intentions of those around them. Horses are finely attuned to their herd mates and, in addition, they are actively searching for threats that may exist. When we enter the round pen with a horse, they are immediately sensing what our intentions are and what our emotional state is and they will respond in ways appropriate to what they perceive. This means that horses do not and cannot understand incongruence. How many times have we asked someone how they are doing and they respond, “I’m fine,” but they really aren’t?
Horses do not play by these social rules. If we were to walk into a space with horses presenting as cool, calm, and collected but actually we were feeling overloaded with our work and riddled with anxiety, the horse is going to respond differently than when we present authentically. This natural ability of the horse to know where we are emotionally, allowing us to practice authenticity with ourselves and others.
Just as there are many ways to implement EAP, there are many ways to become certified depending on what type of equine work you are interested in doing. Currently, there are organizations and models of EAP that train and certify mental health providers and equine specialists.
The process involves attending multiple trainings and completing supervised practice in order to obtain certification through the organizational body.Once certified, members must maintain their certification through supervised practice and continuing education.
In addition to becoming certified through an EAP organization one can pursue higher education in the field. Currently there are only two institutes that provide this option: Prescott College and University of Denver. These programs offer distinct degrees in Equine Assisted Mental
Health that either coincide with a Master’s program in Clinical Counseling or a Post-Master’s certificate in Equine Assisted Mental Health in which the student must already have a degree in Clinical Counseling. These programs are rigorous and provide additional training in equine science, supervised practice, and critical thinking of the field of EAP. These programs are not based in any theoretical orientation or model.
Over the course of a few years, EAP has exploded in the field of mental health. Different models of the work have come to the forefront that establish lenses in which one may implement EAP. As I said earlier, we must always, always, always remember that the nature of equine is to let the experience do the work and to not place EAP in a box of “This is what equine is and this is how to do it.”
That being said, different models of EAP offer varying ideas and guidelines that can be implemented in session. Provided is a brief description of the model I have chosen to incorporate in my practice.
The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association was the first organization to form as a body of practitioners. EAGALA is a metaphor-based treatment model that emphasizes a solution-oriented lens, is ground based, is a team approach (meaning sessions are co-facilitated between a mental health specialist and an equine specialist), and has an established code of ethics. The horse in an EAGALA session is seen as a metaphor and is projected on to by the client.
For example: “That horse is like my father because he pushes everyone around.” The mental health specialist, the equine specialist, and the horse work with the client to observe patterns of behavior and often times the client will be asked to do activities with the horses to explore these metaphors and patterns. Finally, utilizing the solution-oriented approach, clients are viewed to already possess the answers needed to provide solutions to their problems. This autonomy is to be fiercely protected. For more information, please see www.eagala.org