Guest Author Mari Louhi-Lehtiö M.Sc., Ed lives in Finland and is currently studying to become a solution-focused family therapist.
What is – EASEL®
Equine Assisted Social Emotional Learning, EASEL is a methodology designed to strengthen self-awareness, emotion regulation and self-management, social awareness and empathy, social skills and responsible decision making, and happiness caused by aesthetic and powerful experiences of connection with nature and other living things. The structured approach and general process, facilitation principles, and the experiential tools and exercises with horses are grounded in evidence-based theoretical frameworks and social neurosciences. The general process description can be tailored for different client population and each facilitator’s own theoretical framework.
In EASEL, the client-horse-therapist triangle and experiential activities provide opportunities for transforming maladaptive emotions, thought patterns and behavior into new, more adaptive ones. The goal is, however, to get the supporting/therapeutic elements to people’s daily lives, and the focus is soon moved to strengthening the relationships that really matter to the client(s), like with own family and friends. An EASEL process is ideally a solution-focused brief-therapy, 7 to 20 sessions, and conducted in a group format or with the whole family with the facilitators as process consultants. The goal is to support and coach individuals and families to strengthen self and their own “herd”.
Why EASEL Works
Social Emotional Skills refer to our ability to manage own emotions and what happens when we connect with others. Our brain has social circuits that navigate us through every encounter. Social rejection hits our survival instinct because it means that we cannot count on the other one to care and watch our back. Research has shown that even a mild rejection lights up in humans the same brain areas as physical pain.
Staying Present and Engaged
Listening well has been found to distinguish the best parents, leaders, teachers and therapists. horses and play! Play is the platform of all mammals for learning social codes. If we fail to stay engaged, the horse generally just walks away. If we manage to stay present and connected, we get powerful opportunities to investigate self in relation to others, to heal, and to strengthen own social emotional skills.
The Un-escapable Role of Emotions
Emotions are a chemical cocktail in our body intended to make us do something. Any high emotional peak causes the brain to not take in any new information or it is taken so that it reinforces the emotion. Ideally in growing up we develop healthy attachments, basic trust in life and people, and effective social emotional skills, if we are secure and trusting, we have a positive self-image and can tolerate own vulnerability in an age appropriate way. But if our life experiences don’t support such development, we find ourselves in distress and in relationships that don’t seem to fulfill our needs. We become stuck in thought patterns and negative interaction cycles until the underlying need for secure attachments is addressed.
The personal process of change and growth can be described with Richard Boyatzis’ model of self-directed learning. My ideal self – Who do I want to be? My current self – What are my strengths and what do I want to change? How can I build on my strengths and reduce gaps? EASEL offers opportunities to investigate, experiment and practice in a novel but safe and empathetically attuned environment, away from the challenges and roles in own daily life. Supportive and trusting relationships make change possible. This is the role of the EASEL® facilitators and horses but also the whole group or family.
Transforming maladaptive emotions and thought patterns
EASEL aims at creating new relationship events to act as a kind of transformer and thereby help change dysfunctional behaviors and emotions with positive ones for connectivity, care and attachment. With the guidance of the facilitator, the client can modulate the level of challenge in the activities, thereby regulating the intensity of his or her own experience and emotions so that they can be recognized but also handled and processed with the psycho-educative tools and the facilitator’s guidance.
Social Skills and Empathy
It is generally thought in all therapy and education models that the most effective learning and growth happens when people find their own solutions through experiential learning and active processing. The activities with EASEL horses place people in a state of active problem-solving. The activities are designed to produce a natural process that can be investigated, but as in life and relationships in general, the activities are open and shaped by the horse and the client in that moment. The learning arising from this is profound and revealing.
All steps of the program have several alternative open-ended activities to choose from and clients may stay on one step for several sessions. This repetition makes it possible to reinforce something while processing what is happening in the moment. Like in life in general, we never know what is going to happen. The challenge is to discover ways to communicate, connect and develop an adequate level of mutual trust, respect and care to match own needs and the demands of the task at hand. Making friends with a horse can be a powerful way to heal, grow and learn to strengthen own human herd!
For more information http://www.cavesson.com
Mari Louhi-Lehtio will be speaking at this years NARAH conference in Denver
Mari Louhi-Lehtio will also be conducting a EASEL workshop November 7th-9th (directly following the NARHA conference in Denver)
In conjunction with Rocky Mountain Equi-Rhythm at Joder Ranch,
Boulder, CO (40 minutes from Denver)