We recently conducted a workshop focusing on ethics for counselors. The small group of therapist reported promptly at 8:45 a.m. All they knew for sure was that we would be talking about ethics and using horses in the process.
We started with the usual basic information describing ethics in counseling, the accepted standard of good behavior... We transitioned into “safety”. How to keep yourself safe. After all, we were working with 1200 pound animals. There were many levels of comfort working with horses ranging from “not at all comfortable” to “very comfortable”. We checked in throughout the workshop as the levels of discomfort decreased and the participants began to relax and experience what the horses were teaching.
As the therapist began to interact with the horses, individual styles became evident as some approached the horses directly, while others watched from a distance. The horses are great at demonstrating autonomy. They were quick to respond to our “planned” intentions. The horses helped us understand resistance and compliance at so many different levels as they ran in opposite directions, walked and at times just plan ignored our best intentions. We therapists are all about “feelings”. Well, there were lots of feelings going on in the arena - frustration, fear, encouragement, curiosity, and satisfaction are just a few. We came to recognize that there are few “perfect” solutions that will please everyone. We got to practice working with others, while identifying personal strengths and areas we would like to improve.
Through the activities with the horses, therapists learned about relationships. How we relate to our “clients” (metaphor for the horse) and how our “clients” relate to us. There are many ways to go about making decisions both for ourselves and others. Our beliefs and values as well as our own unique personality traits have an impact on our actions.
As I reflected on that workshop, I came to realize the willingness of the group to step out of their comfort zone, take risks, to do things differently, to explore, and to play. The group was able to let go of “being practical”, “being too serious”, and “always following the rules”. They gave themselves permission to turn everything upside down and shake out solutions.
Awareness of the code of ethics and being able to practice ethical principals to find solutions through working with horses is a powerful way to further the welfare and best interest of our clients.