Horses & Biblical Counselling
Written By Nancy West – Back of Beyond Volunteer
I was first introduced to Biblical Counselling through being a counselee. I was fortunate enough to go to a Church that had a Biblical Counsellor on staff, and my experience with that counselling was different than any other counselling I’ve ever received. The focus wasn’t on feelings, or my rights, or even on what I should do to be “happy”. The focus started with exploring my relationship with God. Imagine! That wasn’t why I came to counselling at all! I was looking for strategies on how to deal with some situations in my life. Furthermore, the book that is being cited in each session wasn’t the latest Psychology textbook or Emotions Modification handbook. The book used by this counsellor was the Bible. That is what made this a unique experience from all other counselling experiences.
One of the guiding principles of Biblical Counselling is that there is a biblical solution to every problem. It is God’s handbook for us! The Biblical Counsellor shows his/her counselee where they can gain wisdom, guidance, direction and correction in the Bible, so to enrich their relationship with God, the most important relationship we will ever have. It also shows us how to live graciously and lovingly with other people. The Bible ultimately provides hope, showing people how to turn from practices that are causing problems and replace them with Biblical practices that are helpful and result in lasting heart change.
My time in Biblical Counselling helped me so much, that I knew I wanted to help others in the same way. So when Cathy from Back of Beyond shared with me that she envisioned opening her farm for Biblical Counselling using horses, I was intrigued!
In exploring it more, and listening to what Cathy and other farm volunteers tell people about horses, the concept wasn’t as far a stretch as I first thought. Using horses within therapy can be traced all the way back to ancient Greek times, where writings by Hippocrates described ‘hippotherapy’ (horse therapy).
On the Counselling Directory Website it states why horses are considered so effective in therapy:
“Because of their size
As horses are large and powerful animals, they can be intimidating. For some people, this presents them with a challenge as soon as they start therapy – to overcome this fear. Combating this initial issue can be incredibly liberating……(through) accomplishing tasks and gaining the trust of such animals.
Because they are herd animals
Horses are herd animals, which means they naturally desire company and often want to be led. This makes them very social animals that want to create bonds – and this can be especially poignant when it comes to humans. Horses are therefore ideal for this type of therapy, as they will be inclined to develop a relationship with you when you are ready.
Because they mirror behaviour
Another reason horses are used is because they have an innate ability to mirror the thoughts and behaviours of others. Because they are prey animals, they can read body language and respond instantly. This means that if you enter the horse’s space with a negative attitude and defensive body language, chances are the horse won’t want to interact with you. Alternatively, if you enter with a sense of calm, confidence and openness – you should find the horse responds more positively.
It is this trait that helps you to reflect on your behaviour and challenge the way you approach situations both inside and outside of your therapy session.
Because they have their own personality
Horses can be incredibly human in their personalities – they can be stubborn and seemingly defiant at times. They also like to have fun and often turn exercises into games. Horses can be incredibly caring too, and if you are upset they often respond in a nurturing manner. These personality traits once again make horses a natural companion during the therapeutic process, providing vast opportunity for growth.”
But may I add a fifth point here:
Because they are God’s creatures
Horses are designed by God to be what they are – they cannot pretend to be anything else, they can’t lie, they can’t be devious. They are prey animals, reacting quickly to stimuli around them. This is what makes them so effective at exposing things about the heart of the handler through games played at the farm.
The goal of all counselling is change. So many counselees long for a change in circumstances so that their negative or painful feelings can be relieved. Or maybe they come looking for an instant cure for depression, anxiety, etc. Biblical counselling is not about a change in circumstance or a change in feelings. The goal of biblical counselling is the heart level change that brings about a life that glorifies God. And only God can change our hearts.