Background: Managing the literal and figurative "poo" in our lives, as clinicians, is of critical importance in order to maintain our effectiveness. The challenge of working with any client is not getting caught up in their pathology. As a clinician, the best defense is ongoing self awareness/examination of "our stuff".
As an experiential therapist, I believe working through our experiences allows us to work through our stuff. As a certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapist I believe working with horses allows clinicians a unique opportunity to identify the known and unknown obstacles in their lives to keep these obstacles from disrupting sessions for our clients.
The objective of this presentation is to remind clinicians of the importance of understanding their transference/counter-transference issues by encouraging them to seek an ongoing opportunity to maintain psychological health. Maintaining psychological health can only be attained by accurate inventory of obstacles both personal and professional and a plan to address identified obstacles both in the short and long term.
Participants will be given the opportunity to identify a few of these obstacles through an experiential process. Presenter will ask for a few volunteers to participate in an equine-assisted learning experience using miniature horses. (Horse will be attained from a local EAP program, so they will be experienced with the work.) The demo volunteers will be asked to perform an exercise using the horses, while an EAP team (consisting of the Presenter and the Person providing the horses) will facilitate and debrief the session. Team and volunteers will be “miked” so that the remaining audience can easily observe the session. The observers will be asked to note their own reactions to the session and will be able to engage in the debrief session by asking their own questions.
An introduction to the topic along with clinical research to support the topic will be presented for the first thirty minutes. The demo will last twenty minutes with a ten minute debrief at the end. Due to the size of the horses a space of 24x24 feet will be sufficient room for the demo. Ideally the microphones will be wireless for the volunteers to avoid potential safety issues of moving around while “miked.” Drawing on the examples provided by the demo and the previously illustrated research, obstacles will be identified with both short and long term goals. The final ten minutes can be used for wrap up and questions.
Hayes, et al (1988) identified the following information while studying the effects of counter-transference on clinicians during a session. “Analyses revealed 3 domains relevant to counter-transference: origins (including categories of family issues, needs and values, therapy specific issues, and cultural issues), triggers (including categories of content of client material, therapist comparing client with others, change in therapy structure or procedures, therapist assessing progress of therapy, therapist perception of client, and emotions), and manifestations (including categories of approach, avoidance, negative feelings, and treatment planning).” (Hayes et al, 1988) The categories can be used for an inventory to determine potential obstacles in session.
As trainees and interns we are encouraged to identify our counter transference during or after a session. Some supervisors and/or programs are better about this than others but the concept is at least addressed. As we become established in the clinical world we tend to become more focused on the business aspect of the practice versus the educational/awareness aspect of the practice. When we do seek out our CEU requirements rarely do we look to inventory our counter-transference obstacles, a difficult and sometimes painful process (Blumberg, 2010).
In certain circumstances addressing counter-transference is mandatory, i.e. a client dies either suddenly or from a terminal illness (O’Brien, 2011). In these circumstances the visceral reactions we as clinicians feel become necessary to address. However, counter transference can be a wonderful clinical tool and you don’t need to be an analyst to use it. Creating awareness around our reactions to a client or the circumstances of a session gives us a wonderful opportunity for either personal or professional awareness.
Personal awareness refers to obstacles that we need to address and continue to work on to improve our lives. A lack of personal awareness then places your stuff in the client’s session shifting the focus from them to you. Professional awareness allows us to improve on how we interact with the emotion in the room providing feedback to the client in the form of direct conversation or metaphor to allow the client the opportunity to use the information for further personal insight.
Helena received her second M.A. in psychology from Chapman University, specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2004. She has been licensed since 2007 but working in the field of addiction recovery since early 2004. Helenaís first Masterís of Arts in Psychology is in Cognitive Psychology received in 1998 from University of California, Riverside. While a graduate student in this program, she gave riding lessons for extra money. She discovered how willing people were to share about their lives while working with their horse. When Helena attended Chapman University she discovered EAP and has been certified with EAGALA since 2006.