Trauma Sensitive Equine Assisted Mindfulness (TS-EAM) – Interview

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Katarina is interviewed by Annamária Jánosi, a psychologist in Hungary, working with equine assisted interventions: debrecenilovasterapia.hu

1. Katarina, you have been working with trauma and equine assisted interventions for over 10 years.

As I know you founded the MiMer Centre, an equine human education and research centre, in 2013.

What was your goal in setting up the Centre? 

How did the Mimer Centre get started?

The goal was to fill in the knowledge gaps in our field of equine assisted interventions. Especially on the horse side. I started MiMer Centre with two researchers, and we wanted to contribute with more knowledge about horses, on horse behavior, horse communication, horse’s social life etc. – to enhance their biological, social, emotional, and cognitive welfare. When I entered the field of equine assisted interventions in 2011, I thought this knowledge was going to be there, as the horse is so involved in working with people in different models. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. It soon got clear to me that there was a lot of intuitive knowledge, silent knowledge, based on what results people got from the interventions and services they provided. For me that was not enough – to conclude that it works because it works and to go ahead with just good intentions (I really think the world is full of good intentions, to do good, but there is a saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. And I think it can be harmful to beings, horses as well as humans, to operate, to provide services as a provider on any modality for human growth, without knowing what one is doing, to just trust one’s intuition and vaguely formed ideas. I saw and heard a lot of this in the field – when I asked questions, I was often met by answers as “trust the process”, or “trust the horse”, or “you will get this after a couple of years”. Of course, there is truth in those answers as well, but as I said, I needed more, and have spent the time since then, picking apart all the components in this work. And then developed both interventions and trainings based on what I found.

In 2017 MiMer Centre became a foundation (an official NGO, trust and non-profit – standing on its own) so we were better able to support this work and our field, which also now included getting better equine assisted interventions out there, as well as raising the standard on educations in our field. We wanted (and still want) to both raise the standards when it comes to the actual facilitation work as well as the equine welfare. In MiMer Centre we focus on equine assisted trauma informed care (in all human growth work fields – therapy, social work, learning, coaching etc.). As more knowledge of how to work trauma informed is also very much needed, and the need for clients to meet people who are trauma informed and can provide trauma informed and trauma sensitive interventions is very high.

2. It was also during this period that you created and developed the Equine Assisted Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness method.

How would you describe Equine Assisted Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness?

How do horses get involved? What exactly is the role of the horses in this?

Trauma Sensitive Equine Assisted Mindfulness is a program I developed after having met a researcher wanting to do her post-doc on the combination of equine assisted interventions and mindfulness. I was already a mindfulness instructor and an equine assisted learning facilitator – now I delved into making mindfulness more trauma sensitive within the work of equine assisted interventions. I learned more about trauma sensitive mindfulness and combined it with my own explorations on already having used mindfulness in my equine assisted learning work. I have always been very interested in supporting trauma work. And mindfulness is often recommended as a good tool to help deal with Post Traumatic Stress and other trauma related issues and/or coping strategies. But the problem for people with trauma is that mindfulness can be very triggering. So I said yes to this researcher, to develop a trauma sensitive equine assisted mindfulness program. And I explored and experimented a lot, whilst also looking at what both supporting and critical research and science had to say on the topic.

TS-EAM is a 10-step program that instead of diving directly into practicing being more present and mindful, guides participants through a stepwise process of resourcing oneself and to become more self-aware. It is based on and inspired by a lot of different practitioners within diverse fields of work, but I want to mention a couple of them here; David Trealeaven, who led me into thinking about a stepwise process making mindfulness more accessible to people with trauma, leading to better ability for them to be present in their own lives. I have used his TSM-model as a starting point and adapted it to equine and nature assisted work. Christine Forner, whose work, and research helped me add the last steps to the TS-EAM program. Jamie Marich, whose “Institute for Creative Mindfulness”, has offered me many trainings in different approaches to work with trauma and mindfulness. And Ilka Parent, whose rigorous and researched work with the model she has created for psychodynamic equine assisted trauma therapy (pEATT), helped me make sure the client or participant always is in the forefront and center of any interventions and services we are offering.

In one sentence I would describe TS-EAM as a trauma informed, trauma sensitive and gentle approach to practicing mindfulness, where we work experientially, and equine assisted and most often also nature assisted. It is a way to make the very much needed practice of mindfulness accessible to people with trauma, or other people whose tolerance for stress, emotions etc., is very low (e.g., people with neurodivergence).

The role of the horse in TS-EAM – is to be a horse. By being given the opportunity and freedom to be themselves, horses offer their unique perspectives on presence, mindfulness, safety, resilience and all the other parts of TS-EAM. We work with what the horses are offering in any given situation. We fully trust them as capable, complete, and competent beings.

3. What is the main pillar and underlying principle of this method?

It is working with the first phase of trauma work (in accordance with Judith Herman’s 3 phases of trauma work), and sometimes the last – but not the middle one (that is only to be worked with in trauma therapy). TS-EAM offers participants to do personal work on grounding, stabilization, and resourcing, through the support of trauma sensitive mindfulness, to develop a mindfulness practice with the help of experiential tools, instead of more cognitive tools. But also offers mindfulness practices for people to find their ways forward after having confronted and processed their trauma in therapy. It can also of course be used as a stand-alone intervention, focusing on the grounding, stabilization, and resourcing only. It is all about supporting a higher quality of life by being able to do for oneself, to know one has the resources to support oneself, through stress of any kind, or to support oneself when one experience triggers, flashbacks etc.

In the TS-EAM program we go through the steps:

  1. Introduction/Contextualization
  2. Mindful Gauges/Mindful Attention
  3. Safety
  4. Resilience
  5. Inner/Self-Awareness
  6. Self-Compassion
  7. Belonging
  8. Presence
  9. Attunement/Attachment
  10. Integration/Bridging

4. What mental health problems is your method recommended for?

We work mostly with people high in stress or with trauma. But that covers mostly everything, as how people react to and cope with stress and/or trauma is very individual. TS-EAM is also easy to adapt. At times we do less of something and more of something else. And always o the level where people are at for the moment.

5. Are your horse-assisted interventions done individually or in groups.

Both. You just have to adapt what you do to the people present, not matter how many they are. We usually offer TS-EAM in a group, but it really works great one-on-one, in pairs. I have tried all kinds of constellations. The difference between a more traditional mindfulness group and TS-EAM is that though the support and group dynamics of a group is there, it is still individual work, each participant work on their own resourcing, meaning there are no group instructions where everyone does the same at the same time.

6. What is your experience, what is the impact of the presence of horses on the participants?

Each time I have held a TS-EAM workshop, I have asked the participants the hypothetical question, do you think you would have gotten as much out of these invitations to work with mindfulness this way, if the horses hadn’t been present? And up to 95% so far has said the horses were crucial to their experience.

The horses pay attention to shifts in their environment – and we humans are part of their environment. So when people find ways to be with themselves, the whole of them, when they find confidence in that they can learn to be, maybe in the beginning for short moments of time, the horses engage differently with them.

I also want to add that the presence of the horses also impacts how much of interaction comes towards the human facilitators. More interaction is taking place between horses and participants – giving room to the facilitators to take in more of what is happening, and more time to understand processes, to see, to find the right questions to ask, to see where more invitations might help and so on. To see what is working, and what is not. So in any equine assisted work, the way we do it, the horses is as much assisting the facilitation team as the participants.

7. What was your most defining experience in your groups so far?

That it isn’t so much about WHAT the horses are doing, as HOW they are doing it. They role model anything from presence, to self-care, worth, paying mindful attention and so on. But not by teaching it – but by living it, in congruence with themselves. They role model how a being can live as fully function and fully competent, complete beings, with how they are, in the moment they are in. When clients/participants are getting closer to this – the horses change their way of being around them, their way of interacting with them and it strengthens the felt sense of authenticity and presence with oneself in those moments.

8. As I know you will start a new online workshop on equine assisted methods and theory in January. Can you tell us a bit about it? Who is the training for?

The training is called Equines in “Therapy and Learning Programs – Model-Independent Equine Assisted Trauma Informed Care” (EiT/L – MI-EATIC)– and is going on its fourth year now. There are 4 Levels – and they are open to anyone who wants to learn the building blocks of any kind of trauma informed equine assisted interventions. You can find more info here: https://www.mimercentre.org/index.php/education

We educate on all the building blocks, from equine science and knowledge and equine welfare to facilitation skills and knowledge about trauma informed care (TIC). Educating on how to work with TS-EAM is part of this what we offer in EiT/L – MI-EATIC four levels. The training is open for anyone working with supporting human growth and who wants to learn more about equine assisted intervention work, as well as it is open to all horse people wanting to work as an equine professional in equine assisted human growth facilitation teams.

In collaboration with Minds-n-Motion and Ilka Parent, we also in January offer the first module of how to work with her model pEATT – psychodynamic Equine Assisted Trauma Therapy. Sign-ups are already open: https://mimer-centre-school.teachable.com/courses

Picture taken at our TS-EAM worksop in Lativa in October 2022, a workshop that is part of an Erasmus+ project and collaboration between Latvia and Sweden.

Text and pictures are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren 2022

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Wednesday, 08 February 2023

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