Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy’s eight-phased, three-pronged standard protocol is an empirically validated approach that helps clients recover from the unhealed traumas and distressing life experiences that contribute to PTSD, anxiety, depression, panic disorders, as well as a myriad of other symptoms.
EMDR therapy is grounded in the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model that asserts that when one experiences traumas or disturbing life events, that the unhealed material gets ‘locked’ in the nervous system and remains unprocessed. Those unprocessed experiences contribute to clients getting triggered in the present and ‘show up’ as the cluster of disturbing symptoms, behaviors, and thinking patterns that will bring clients into therapy.
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs/Dept. of Defense, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the World Health Organization among many other national and international organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment.
Through the protocol, clients are offered an experiential approach to EMDR therapy. Equine-Assisted EMDR (EA-EMDR) is still EMDR therapy, but is the integration of equine-assisted experiences (what we practitioners might also call Equine-Assisted Therapy or EAP ( Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy) work with EMDR to become EA-EMDR.
Through EA-EMDR, animal-assisted experiences, whether directed or undirected, are readily and actively woven into all eight phases of EMDR therapy and with fidelity to standard protocol. In doing so, the goals of each phase of EMDR therapy can be facilitated intentionally and in partnership with animals(s) while still maintaining EMDR treatment fidelity. A foundational principle of EA-EMDR is that one is “always doing EMDR therapy.” EMDR therapy is a modality, not just an intervention, therefore the focus is on all phases, not solely phase four reprocessing.
Clients who have experienced chronically traumatization present with more complex levels of dissociation. In fact, those with “Simple PTSD” are not the majority of our caseloads as therapists.. Subsequently, without a staged approach to trauma treatment, when providing equine-assisted interactions, such as when conducting what the field will also call EAP (Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy) the work can very easily over-expose clients to the traumatic material too fast, too soon, and in fact contribute to an increase in the client’s dissociative process. EA-EMDR was created to further support the treatment of complex trauma clients, especially those who present with structural dissociation. In a parallel fashion, many of us in the field of providing equine-assisted interactions have likely seen many, many, examples of horses that have been overexposed, experiencing high levels of pressure and distress when “used” for EAP activities.
In contrast, EA-EMDR, specifically, brings a manualized, phased, model that is informed by EMDR therapy, an existing research-based standard of practice in trauma treatment. Practitioners of this approach are partnering with the horse(s) as sentient being(s), and in a manner that is supported by training, qualifications, ethical practice, and keen awareness of client and animal welfare.
In line with EMDRIA’s requirement for those providing EMDR therapy, EA-EMDR is provided by an EMDR trained therapist (EMDRT) who must provide a “Certificate of Completion of an EMDRIA Approved EMDR Training.” This certificate will show that the therapist has completed the entire 50 hour EMDR course i.e. Part 1, Part 2, and 10 hours of consultation.
EA-EMDR offers you, regardless of EAP “model” the ability to still stay in line with the requirements of your chosen foundational EAP training. Depending on your foundational EAP model’s requirements, EMDR therapists can either attend as a solo practitioner if “dually trained” (EMDR and EAP) or in attendance with your Equine-Specialist (ES) when working in partnership.
Each model has its own requirements, standards, and expectations, especially regarding working alone, or in partnership, as well as guidelines regarding non-mounted or ground-based work.
It is the student’s responsibility to attend in a manner that enables them to maintain compliance with their chosen foundational EAP training and in a way that enables them to maintain their equine-liability insurance requirements.
A principle, which is surprising to some, is that the EquiLateral: Equine-Assisted EMDR protocol is not about riding. Approximately 95% of the time, the work is ground-based. EA-EMDR was created to further support the treatment of complex trauma clients, especially those who present with structural dissociation. With this in mind, riding, or even just getting on a horse, is not required and in some cases is even contraindicated, for as many any recreational, or even professional equestrian knows, just because one is on a horse, does not mean that one is fully present, “centered,” and time oriented, let alone able to maintain the dual attention when accessing and processing maladaptive or adaptive material. But, for those who are interested in bringing riding components to their client’s experiences, ridden aspects will be addressed in the training as well.
An EMDRT who wants to attend without an Equine-Specialist (ES) must show verification of being also trained in an existing EAP (Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy) or EFP (Equine Facilitated Therapy) training model and also provide proof of equine-liability coverage. Note: This is different from your malpractice. Examples of possible EAP/EFP training include, but are not limited to, EAGALA, OK Corral, NL, Path Intl., (GEIR) Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies.
If you as an EMDR therapist are not “dually trained in EAP/EFP and EMDR therapy,” in other words, only trained in EMDR therapy, you must attend with an ES.
If you work with an ES you would attend the course, together as the EMDRT and ES must both have a solid understanding of EMDR therapy in order to provide clinically sound EA-EMDR and to learn each others’ roles. The ES that you as EMDRT attend with will be trained in an existing EAP/EFP model and provide verification of equine liability insurance coverage.
You must partner with an EMDR therapist or be dually trained as an EMDR therapist in order to attend. In addition to indicating your EMDRT partner during registration, verification of your foundational EAP/EFP training, as well as your equine-liability insurance is also required.
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