FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH Equine and Companion Animal Trauma Therapy
Kerulos is involved in various research and education projects that explore and teach trans-species psychology—how therapeutic concepts and methods used to help humans recover from trauma might be helpful for other animals.
Lucy and Niki—The Healing Journey of a Dog and her Guardian
Lucy and Niki: A Healing Journey
When people and animal partners suffer trauma, it is often important for treatment interventions to be collaborative. Recently, Kerulos faculty member and psychoanalyst, Vera Muller-Paisner, LCSW, interviewed a woman and her dog following a car accident.
Although neither was physically injured, both were shaken. Niki the dog showed the symptoms of PTSD. Being a sensitive partner, Lucy became aware of Niki's trauma and sought help. The video of this interview, Luci and Niki: A Healing Journey, tells their story.
Commentary on Lucy and Niki
In a follow-up video, Commentary on Lucy and Niki, Vera is interviewed about her therapeutic approach. She explores Niki's post-traumatic stress symptoms in detail, and outlines the path to healing. This included Bilateral Animal Tapping (BAT), a treatment Vera has adapted from Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Equine Trauma Therapy Project
Developed by Kerulos faculty and psychoanalyst Vera Muller-Paisner, Bilateral Animal Tapping (BAT) helps horses and other animals through trauma. It is based on a method that has been very useful for humans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Adapted from EMDR, BAT is effective in reducing anxiety and stress stemming from a variety of traumatic stressors. Vera conducts clinics and works with horses and their guardians much like family systems therapy where animal trauma recovery is accomplished through mutual transformation.
In a symposium held October 10th, 2009 at Mistover Farm in Pawling NY, Vera led a workshop on equine trauma recovery. There, she related a case study of a Lusitano stallion that had struggled with phobias associated with an old traumatic memory. In Vera's words,
"He showed a terrified avoidance reaction every time he was asked to either leave or re-enter his stall. This panic reaction was close to violent, sometimes resulting in his own injury or the person trying to walk with him. Examination of medical records, case notes, interviews, and observation suggested that his behavior and psychological state of near terror could be a type of re-experiencing of past trauma.
"I showed a videotape of the horse's behavior to the workshop participants and the various stages of treatment that were introduced. Much like the horse client himself, audience tension built up when observing the horse's severe anxiety. Over a three week period, as the video documents, I administered BET, a method similar to EMDR used on humans to address PTSD.
"To my surprise, the audience was participating as they watched the progress of his treatment speaking words of encouragement to him and praising him as his treatment progressed and he began to relax. Horse guardians watching the video were relieved to see a traumatized horse responding well and his anguish abate. Their personal experience with these horses was validated and they were reassured to see a new tool that would facilitate in the recovery of trauma that can haunt horses.
"The palpable empathy of people with the horse illustrates how we intuitively connect with other species, are sensitive to pain and fear in other species, and respond to animals much as we do with each other as humans. We might think of this as a trans-species example of 'counter-transference' in psychology."
Equine and Companion Animal Trauma
Domesticated, and thereby "bicultural" (living between horse and co-evolved with human cultures, and totally dependent on humans for their care and survival), horses are typically separated from the herd, sold repeatedly, and abused, with the result that traumas become engrained and unaddressed. When an old memory from these experiences is coupled with anxiety, it may cause a re-experience or “flashback” to the old disturbance. There is no discharge, only the same response every time. Further, trauma can be readily transmitted from human to horse and horse to human. Trauma recovery in horses, therefore, relates to and is significantly dependent on the relationship between a horse and their human guardian.
Recovery may begin when an individual is rescued from traumatic circumstances and provided with things often taken for granted when free but are forbidden to those in captivity-- loving touch, nutritious foods, and the ability to eat, socialize,and initiate whatever and whenever one wishes (what psychologists call agency),or as a result of a traumatic accident. Traumatology teaches us that memories remain in body and mind and although life can be renewed, the past cannot not erased. There are gentle therapeutic approaches that can help an individual work through trauma's legacy. Support the horses. Publications
Muller-Paisner, V, and G. A. Bradshaw. 2010. Freud and the family horse: exploration into equine psychotherapy. Spring Journal, 83, 211-235.
Muller-Paisner, V. (2008) Letting Go of Fear, Learn how EMDR can help riders suffering from trauma. Dressage Today, December 2008.
Bradshaw, G.A. & D. Durham. 2007. Restoring natural balance: animal trauma and recovery. Natural Horse. April/May.
Salt Lake Wild Horse and Burro Center, Bureau of
Restoring American Wild Horse Society
In the United States one of the most volatile conservation problems has been that of preserving wild horses. Images of the wild horse or mustang, emblazoned on t-shirts, beverage cans, cars, and sports teams, celebrate the animal's free spirit and endurance. However, the real lives of these legendary icons are a far cry from their imagined existence. Mustangs run free only within the confines of management allotments: their fates dictated by brutal routine round-ups and "removal." The days of mustang herds sweeping across American plains are gone. Those captured in government holding pens outnumber free-ranging compatriots.
Like elephants, horses are large, social mammals that are vulnerable to psychological and social damage when subjected to severe stress and trauma causing loss of social cohesion (see Muller-Paisner and Bradshaw, 2010). Both elephants and mustangs have experienced the breakdown of their societies and sustained chronic and acute stress as a result of human "management" (see Nock, 2010; Bradshaw, 2010). Attitudes and opinions concerning wild horse conservation are fraught with contradictions, myths, and uncertainties. Mustangs are also victims of mixed perceptions and contradictory categorizations—domesticated vs. wild, native vs. invasive, and national symbol vs. pest.
Kerulos faculty members Bruce Nock (Washington University School of Medicine and founder of Liberated Horsemanship), Gay Bradshaw, Vera-Muller-Paisner, Lori Marino, and Cassandra Nuñez (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University), are developing a science-based plan to help protect and restore wild horse society. Our project bridges animal protection and conservation to inform ethical, science-based policy in support of mustang wellbeing, dignity, and society.