Spotlight on The Psychology behind Coaching with Horses  ‘And now for the Science bit….’

By Lindsay Corrigan BSc. MSc. Ch.Psychol

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is a holistic approach, impacting cognitions, emotions and behaviour. The field of neuroscience has since the 1990s, detailed evidence of the complex neural feedback loops highlighting the partnerships between cognitive process and the processes labelled ‘emotional experiences’ – supporting our own theoretical position of the link between our thoughts and feelings, and how they shape our behaviour.

Spotlight 1: Finding out what we don’t know: Carl Jung, whose ideas underpin many of the development interventions and tools we use today (e.g . MBTI), refers to bringing conscious awareness to our unconscious views of our self-image and beliefs.  Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) also focuses on addressing the automatic patterns of thinking which reside in our unconsciousness, to change our behaviour.  Cognitive Behavioural  (CB) approaches, well researched and scientifically supported, suggest similar changes can be brought about by raising awareness and dealing with our conscious thoughts and beliefs.

Spotlight 2: Knowing what we are good at: Authentic leadership and team membership, starts with an individual really knowing and understanding their ‘true self’(Jung). Working with the horses, creates a safe, clean space for individuals to see how the unconscious habits and thinking patterns they rely on play out in a novel situation.  This provides a fantastic opportunity for strengths based development, as positive thoughts and feelings trigger effective behaviours which bring observable results.

Spotlight 3: Accelerating new learnings: Just as NLP does not require lengthy unpicking of personal issues, working with the horses offers a quick, high impact process, cutting to the core, which brings meaningful insights to our participants to take back to work and home. We support people to be released from the unhelpful habits and thinking patterns that are slowing their growth.

Spotlight  4: Embedding new patterns: Due to the horses preference to live moment by moment, and not hold grudges about our failings, we are presented with a priceless opportunity to try, and retry, different strategies in a single session. This runs like a condensed version of the valuable ‘between session’ CBT exercises.  Each individual finds approaches that work for them and sit comfortably with who they are.

Spotlight 5: Increasing readiness for change:  EFL arms individuals with the tools and strategies they need to manage themselves in a variety of environments. As in Gestalt approaches, we focus on raising being present, having self-awareness in the moment, developing self-knowledge and building confidence, to make good choices in future situations.

Spotlight 6: Remove the threat of feedback: Shifting how people seek and perceive feedback, and what they do with the information gathered. Recognising that we have the resources to adapt and change ourselves to have a more positive impact on our environment, empowers our participants.

Spotlight 7: Connection is the key: Leadership and team work is all about relationships.  Social relationships need to be high quality and sincere, but also be beneficial to all parties.  Visually seeing and understanding clearly how we impact others and how we are affected by others behaviour, is a golden ticket to building better connections with clients and colleagues.