Sabbatical Presentation

February 5, 2013

Prezi – Not Just Horsin’ Around

On Tuesday, February 5 2013, I will be presenting on my sabbatical to the Mid Michigan Community College Board of Trustees at their monthly workshop. This presentation is part of our responsibility for taking a sabbatical. Though this concludes my sabbatical responsibilities, I continue to learn more about healing holistically – through connection within ourselves, to others (including animals), to nature.


“animal” therapy in the news

April 25, 2012

While looking around at this morning, a headline caught my eye: “Jennie Garth: Farm animals help me cope with split“. Garth isn’t talking about a formal, structured therapy assisted by animals, but rather sharing what many of us pet owners would say about the benefits of owning pets. Her description of what her animals do for her captures though, what many people in animal-assisted therapy would also say about their “unconditional love” and a sense of relief for awhile from chronic stress. She also mentions that being in “nature” helps her from being singularly focused on her husband.

I recently read “a stolen life” by Jaycee Duggard, who was kidnapped at the age of 11 while walking to her school bus stop. She was kept in outbuildings on the property of Philip Garrido, who manipulated a girlfriend/wife, his mother, and Jaycee to keep her as a sex slave. She had 2 daughters by him and was discovered it seems  almost by accident when she was in her 20s, after 18 years. Imagine her transition back now, after missing most of her childhood with her family, never being able to make her own decisions and being completely dependent on her kidnapper/rapist, missing her sister’s childhood, missing experiences of school and all of the normal developmental transitions. In her book, she describes how stray animals, and a few that were pets that he brought her, helped her to get through her trauma while still in his captivity. It was very important to her that the authorities even go back to Garrido’s property and try to save those animals. Now that she is reunified with her family, part of her therapy has been with animal-assisted therapy, including equines. She founded The JAYC Foundation to help other families going through the difficult reunification process. The mission of the foundation is to “be of service to families that have suffered a familial or nonfamilial abduction or other trauma and to spread the word of compassion and awareness through educational programs. We connect families to support and services they need in order to recover from the abduction or other traumatic events, such as returning from military deployment or a major natural disaster.” (retrieved from: on 4/25/12). The support they provide includes animal-assisted therapy.

I actually learned of this foundation while at the National EAGALA conference last month. The foundation had a booth to raise awareness of its equine services. When Jodi brought me the brochure, she had not yet had a chance to read it, and was surprised when I said “this is named for the girl who was kidnapped and found many years later!”. Then a few weeks ago, while on vacation in D.C., my family went to the Museum of Crime and Punishment. I spotted Jaycee Duggard’s book in their gift shop and decided to read it. It is difficult to read, she vividly describes her early attacks from Garrido, so be forewarned if you are thinking about reading it yourself. Martin even asked me not to read it at night because he was concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep well based on my non-verbal reactions to those early chapters.

Jennie Garth and Jaycee Duggard both turned to animals for comfort and stress relief. The difference between the two is that after her rescue, Duggard (and I believe also her two daughters that were born during her captivity) also had sessions with animals that were facilitated by a trained therapist and was adjunctive to other therapy. Animal-assisted therapy makes the comfort of animals more intentional. The EAGALA method, which I presume may be connected to the JAYC Foundation because they were vendors at the conference, is different than simply having a cat or a dog in a client’s lap while they talk about difficult circumstances. The horses provide the clients with a means to tell their story and discover their own solutions.

From a biopsychosocial standpoint, many theorists would have ways to describe why Garth and Duggard are mentioning animals and nature as being essential to their healing. Neuropsychologists would talk about what happens to us biochemically when we get contact comfort, or how different parts of our brain get active (note how Garth describes having something else to focus on), or how the use problem-solving and metaphor-building activities in Equine Assisted therapy may help us make new neurological connections in our brain. Psychologically speaking, we get to “talk” to the animals who don’t judge what we say. Freud noted long ago that talking about what bothers us in itself seemed to make patients feel better. We get reinforced by the animals when we connect to them, whereas humans don’t always reinforce us in the way we need when we try to express ourselves or reach out. The humanists/existentialists/modern positive psychologists may point out our need to be connected to ourselves, others, and the natural world. King David, in the Psalms, often wrote of nature in his poetry when he was writing worshipful psalms of rejoicing – this is by no means a new idea!

EAGALA training

April 21, 2012

I have just finished a great experience in my personal and professional development. I’ve posted about EAGALA before (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), having attended a state networking meeting and the National EAGALA conference while on sabbatical. For the last few days, I’ve attended the 3 day training event called EAGALA I. This is the first step that is taken towards getting the basic certification through this organization. We got introduced to the EAGALA model (their structure for providing equine assisted psychotherapy), saw demonstrations of EAGALA sessions, had opportunity to participate in EAGALA sessions as a volunteer participant, built our observation skills, lots of Q & A time, and the last day spent facilitating sessions ourselves within small groups we were assigned to on day 1.

It was great to be led through this by Amy Blossom and Brenda Hunter, two professionals who have been doing this work for years and are very involved in EAGALA as trainers and on committees. Fellow participants included students, doctors, horse trainers, teachers, a nurse, psychotherapists…and me, an Industrial/Organizational psychologist and community college professor! Some were already involved with EAGALA practices, others were just barely knowledgeable of the organization and the methods it teaches. However, our connection was 1) a love for horses, 2) experiences of how horses have helped us personally, and 3) a desire to help other humans using horses.

I was grateful that my group was able to structure an activity for a hypothetical company going through some difficulties. It helped me to see that I have some background experience that could be applied with this method. Most people in EAGALA certify as Equine Specialists or Mental Health Specialists. I qualify for neither of these specialties, so I get the catch all category of “other”. It hasn’t been clear to me what this means in practice, or where I fit and what I have to offer. I only know that I am attracted to this form of therapy and personal development. The use of metaphor, the focus on empowering clients/participants to find their own solutions, and the liberty given to the horses and the participants appeal to me as a teacher who strives to be student-centered, as a consultant who strives to help my clients find their own solutions, as a parent who strives to develop problem-solving and assertiveness in her daughter, and a human who strives to allow others around me freedom to be who they are (not always easy!). Linda W. joined me at this conference, and we had many side conversations about where we see this developing at the ranch where we volunteer – the potential opportunities AND the potential pitfalls!

Therapy Dogs

April 12, 2012

Shasta and Maggie sporting their new TDI Bandana's and Therapy Dog ID tag

Though most of my sabbatical work has been about equine assisted therapy, I am interested in animal-assisted therapy in general. It has long been established in research that experiences with animals can have a positive influence on our physical and emotional health. According to Therapy Dogs International, interaction with dogs can “lower blood pressure; rehabilitate and promote relaxation; and relieve agitation, anxiety, and stress in patients”. This is different than “service” dogs who provide physical assistance for people who are blind, epileptic, in wheelchairs, or other needs. Therapy dogs provide social and emotional support in a variety of settings, such as reading programs for children with reading difficulties, patients and their families in hospice, patients in hospitals, stressed out college students, and even in disaster responses.

This morning my family sent in more paperwork to Therapy Dogs International (TDI)  to maintain our new “Associate Member” status with that organization.  Both dogs passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Companion test plus additional testing steps required by TDI in February. We each had to do the tests with each dog – so it is also the dog/owner partnership that is examined! We are especially proud of our 15 year old daughter “J” for her commitment to this process and for introducing this new volunteer work to our family! Now to finalize our status, the “humans” in the partnership needed to pass OUR test to show we had read through the TDI manual and watched their orientation DVD. We will also need to send in paperwork in a few months confirming that we have begun to do visits.

We have a good friend who has therapy dogs and leads dog obedience classes who encouraged us to take these steps. We have always affectionately called our dogs as our therapy dogs because of the emotional support they provide to us. Shasta is also nicknamed the “Nanny” for her job getting “J” to sleep on time, resting her head on the bellies of pregnant women, and watching over babies who visit our house. Maggie has been nicknamed our “Barometer” for her ability to detect emotions in our family that are incongruent with our words. Our teen daughter “J” is nicknamed the “dog magnet”, often told by people whose dogs she asks to pet that their dogs “never” warm up to strangers they way they do to her. On vacations, as we look at beautiful scenery and historical sites, our daughter is known to be shouting “DOG!”.

So one afternoon last summer we met our dog trainer friend for lunch and encouraged our daughter to ask her lots of questions about how to learn more about dog training and even careers working with dogs. She had a wealth of information and gave J suggestions for books and websites to research. She also invited us to attend her dog obedience classes. Though our dogs are mature and already had pretty good basic training and many “tricks”, we decided to begin with the beginning courses to get the full experience. J and I took the dogs through the Intermediate course as well, and began to learn rally and agility training as well as the behaviors the dogs needed to be certified as “therapy dogs”. It was a great experience for all of us – the dogs seemed to know when it was Sunday night, seeming to anticipate the family outing to the canine training center in Alma. Even now, if they are in the car when we go past the exit we normally take, they perk up!

Last January, Margy declared our dogs “ready” and encouraged us to sign up for the upcoming therapy dog testing session by a local tester named Betty Lewis. Therapy dogs have to be comfortable with many situations and many types of people. Part of our training and preparation has included exposing them to new situations, strange sounds and smells, other dogs and owners, and a higher level of obedience. Still, we were quite nervous about this testing step! Betty conducts the tests at a nursing home in Farwell, Michigan. She asked us to come towards the end of the session because she was expecting so many dogs and owners to attend. This nursing home is not far from us, so we decided to drive up there without our dogs to get the lay of the land! The lobby of the nursing home was busy with dozens of dogs, owners, nursing home staff, and nursing home residents! Though it was a bit overwhelming, it is a great way to test dogs for these purposes because this is what they will be doing in their therapy work! We observed for a short while, then brought our dogs back later. They did wonderfully! While we finished up paperwork, Maggie went to work! Three female residents were exclaiming over her and she stood quietly as they touched and petted her. One woman was almost crying tears of joy and clapping her hands with excitement!

I really appreciate the professionalism of Therapy Dogs International. In addition to being tested by Betty, we had to have a physical form completed by our veterinarian, and we will need to continue to confirm that our dogs are healthy, worm-free, and of good temperament. The orientation materials we have received, along with the special red bandana’s, collar tags, and id cards (with the dogs’ photos!), have been helpful in preparing us to begin this kind of volunteer work.

My husband has actually had the most official therapy dog visit experience so far! He was able to attend a reading session at our local elementary school with our dog Maggie. He was so excited that he went to a closing sale of a local pet supply shop and got a new leash and a new floor mat to take with him. He will also be attended a “stress relief” program for a local private college’s students who will begin their finals next week. We are on schedule for more of that as the local university begins finals in a few weeks. I hope to go with Margy to a local hospital’s rehab and psych units in the future. We are also in talks with HopeWell Ranch about bringing our dogs on-site there (I’ve taken each dog out with me to get them acclimated before our season out there begins!). J can hardly wait to be more available to join us once  she is on summer break – hoping to attend Special Olympics in Mt. Pleasant in June and other programs with children or possibly nursing homes.

What Happens in Vegas…Doesn’t just stay in Vegas!

March 30, 2012
Red Rock

Me at Red Rock Canyon on 3/24/12

How does one go to Vegas, not gamble, not work, but make money? I’ll give you the answer AFTER you read this post!

Last week, I attended the National conference for EAGALA. This year it was held at the South Point Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada from Thursday-Saturday. It was an amazing conference, I believe one of the best that I have ever attended. Every session held something that was of interest to me, and directly related to my sabbatical studies. I know that many people will assume that we went off and played on the strip, it is simply not true. Las Vegas has never held much appeal for me. I don’t gamble, and I get overwhelmed by Casino sights, sounds, and smells! We have a casino near us (in Mt. Pleasant), and I can count on one hand how many times I have been there (for a few dinners and concerts). However, it was exciting to attend this conference with Jodi Stuber (HopeWell Ranch co-founder and Program Director) and Linda W., a psychologist who has become interested in equine assisted healing.

However, I know some of you want to know about my Vegas experience! The South Point is a relatively new resort, about 4 miles south of the infamous “Strip”. This probably helped keep conference attendees around – it simply wasn’t convenient to get there. A free shuttle to the Strip was quickly full, taxis cost about $35 to go 4 miles. We did share a taxi one time to go out to dinner at “Battista”, a fabulous Italian “hole in the wall” behind the Flamingo. We walked around that general area – The Flamingo to see the birds and koi, The Bellagio to see the light and water show from the street, and a walk through of the Paris hotel/casino and Bally’s – before heading home. Given that we were jet lagged and had a full day of the conference, we were ready to turn in! The South Point is absolutely beautiful. Our room was spacious and comfortable. The lobby included a Seattle’s Best Coffee, which thrilled me! The resort is unique in that it has the largest indoor horse arena attached to a hotel, I believe in the world. There are over 1,200 stables, though our conference probably only used 5.

Jodi representin' MSU in front of a fountain at the Flamingo.


The Light and Water Show outside the Bellagio on Vegas's Strip

Battista’s – we had a fabulous Italian dinner here, and the best Cappuccino I have ever tasted.

I drank a LOT of coffee, but treated myself to an iced latte only once! This was inside the South Point Casino/Resort.

Outside of resort

Red Rock Canyon Resort

Would I return? Yes, but not to the Strip. But the surrounding areas in Nevada and nearby states are sights I do want to see. We were done with the conference at noon on Saturday, but didn’t fly out until after 11 p.m., so Jodi rented a Yaris and the three of us headed out to Red Rock Canyon. We all love nature, and we were finally in our own element as we took our time through the loop, taking lots of pictures, sighing many times over the beauty, laughing with delight at the ribbons of red and yellow through the mountains. We ended the day at yet another casino, this one out near Red Rock – fittingly named the Red Rock casino and resort. Again, absolutely beautiful – if we ever vacationed out there, I would stay there as our home base to go see the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Valley of Fire, the Grand Canyon, etc.. The restaurants were highly recommended and we had a hard time picking one for dinner, finally settling on the “Café”. It was the most luxurious café I have ever seen! The prices were reasonable, and the food was fabulous.

Prime Rib

Prime Rib Dinner at the "Cafe"

Now, indulge me to talk about the conference a bit! Over 500 people who share a passion for horses and healing and the helping professions were in attendance. I would say a majority of attendees are probably members of EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), and have probably done at least part 1 of the Training (I will be doing mine in April). There are many terms used to describe the use of horses (equine) in the healing of hurting people. EAGALA trains people in a specific model to do what they have tagged as EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) and EAL (Equine Assisted Learning).

The model has 4 basic facets:

  1. A team of a licensed mental health professional and equine specialist that work with the client and the horse(s)
  2. All work on the ground – no horseback riding at all. The process uses metaphors – horses and other “tools” or toys are used as the client(s) are presented with an experience.
  3. An underlying belief that clients can discover their own solutions and discover it through facilitation by the team, not direction by the team
  4. A code of ethics.

Currently, HopeWell Ranch primarily does NOT do equine assisted therapy following the EAGALA model. We have in the past, but there hasn’t been a mental health specialist able to offer services since the summer of 2010. The ranch was founded to provide therapeutic riding experiences initially, but with the number of emotional and spiritual health issues that our clients bring it seems time to add to our skills set to offer more to those who come. Jodi learned about EAGALA, and she and a few others have been certified as the “equine specialist” and one person as an “other”. Linda has been volunteering at the ranch since January, and is interested I think as becoming the “mental health” specialist and will join me in April for the level 1 training through EAGALA, so there is potential for us to be able to offer EAP/EAL sessions again. My role is still unclear – it isn’t  clear if I can qualify as a mental health specialist because the state of Michigan does not require industrial/organizational psychologists to be licensed, nor is my training to work with mental health issues. I am interested in applying the EAGALA model to working with individuals, teams, and organizations on leadership, teambuilding, communication issues, and the like, more development than healing. I will probably certify as an “other”, which means I would still be required to have an “ES” and an “MH” working with me for these types of clients.

Nevertheless, the arena sessions and breakout sessions all had application in my interest in trying to develop a model or theory to explain WHY horses help us to heal (whether through the metaphorical, experiential work of EAGALA’s model, or through riding). To wrap this post up, I thought I would simply list the sessions I attended, and in future blog posts perhaps reflect more deeply on some of them!

Arena Sessions (all of us together watching activities in the arena, using 5 horses, and a variety of volunteer “clients”, team members, and tools).

Arena Session - "Horse Powered Reading". Volunteer participants chose a horse to be their "book", and used the "toys" in the arena to represent barriers to their own reading. They led their "book" through the obstacles as metaphor to breaking through those barriers.

  • Introduction to the EAGALA Model
  • Bridging the Gap Between Activities and Life Metaphors (an example of how EAGALA model works)
  • There is no “I” in Team (helping EAGALA practitioners work together better)
  • EAL: Where do we start (an example of an activity that can be used for an organization)
  • Spiritual Growth sessions in the Arena (an example of a meditative activity)
  • Horse Powered Reading (a literacy expert demonstrated how she uses an EAL activity to help teachers assess students struggles with reading)
  • A Program of Recovery (an example of using these activities for people dealing with Substance Abuse who are in a 12 step program)

Break out sessions – some times it was hard to choose one! Jodi and I tried to split up when we could so we can share information, but this is a list of the ones that I attended:

  • Attaching with Horses – Working with children with attachment disorders and adoption issues.
  • Haven’t Been There, Haven’t Done That (about secondary trauma for professionals who get affected by their client’s traumas. This turned out to be a lot about stress management and was my least favorite session – I teach the same stuff!)
  • This is Your Brain on EAGALA – This was one of my favorite sessions. The facilitator was funny, very prepared, and the material gave me loads of ideas for my classes!
  • Working with Military Populations – This presenter was also great. She is a military wife as well as a mental health specialist using the EAGALA model to help military personnel. She has a unique perspective on the military culture and really helped translate that culture for us. It also made it clear that though Jodi and I both want to help those who may have suffered trauma in a military experience, our geographic location precludes this from being a large target market for us. At most, we can consider potential clients who are transitioning back to civilian life and have possibly returned to mid-Michigan as their hometown, or perhaps to support families with a parent/spouse deployed.
  • Defining EAP: Overcoming Gaps in literature (this was about strengths and weaknesses in our current research)
  • A look at EAP Programming Nationwide (a MI Eagala member presented research she is conducting on the practitioners themselves)
  • Polishing the Lens – About research issues. Sound boring? It wasn’t! At least not to those of us who attended! These last three sessions, all held on Saturday, probably gave me the most ideas for research, future studies, and ways I can help guide HopeWell Ranch’s decisions.

All in all, I attended the equivalent of 14.5 Continuing Education contact Hours! In addition, I had many opportunities to talk to other professionals, visit the booths of other ranches/clinics and learn about their programs and curriculum, and to talk to Jodi and Linda about our ideas and dreams for the ranch. It was emotionally exhausting at times, and mentally exhausting with all of the information coming at us. But it was so worthwhile!

I started my sabbatical with a list of possible readings in my independent study of animal-assisted therapy and ecopsychology. Somehow, though I have read/am reading a number of books, my reading list has been growing! With mixed feelings, I took the handouts of the speakers with their suggested list of resources! ;).

So back to the question I asked at the beginning… how does one go to Vegas, not gamble, but make money? Well, you get your ticket with frequent flyer miles to fly out the night before a conference starts, then get bumped because you have plenty of time to get there,  in exchange for a $400 voucher towards another flight!

Lessons from the Blue Zones

March 8, 2012

Though so far most of what I have concentrated on during my sabbatical has been equine assisted healing, the bigger picture of what I’m interested in is our overall health and how our personal psychology interacts with that. Personally, in fact, I chose “HEALTH” as my “word” for the year (an alternative to defeating New Year’s resolutions!). I have books on my reading list on health psychology, ecopsychology, positive psychology, and religion and psychology in addition to a more focused study on animal assisted therapies.

One of the books on my reading list was “Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest” by Dan Buettner. Buettner visited a number of “blue zones”, a term that was coined when a researcher used a blue pen to circle areas on a map that had a high concentration of centenarians. In a narrative style, he shares about his personal meetings with some of these individuals as well as present research that has been done on the people in those zones and on health and aging in general. At the end of each chapter on one of these Blue Zones, Buettner summarizes the health and lifestyle decisions that seemed to be common across the people who were reaching their late years and still thriving. The book ends with an identification of the common behaviors across these blue zones, what are called the “Power Nine”. If you don’t have time to read the book, I discovered the website has some great resources (I have to admit, I didn’t read it completely! I checked it out from the library – TWICE! – and really need to move on to more books on my list!). I was relieved to find both this last chapter and the website because I imagined myself frantically typing up notes on the entire book before the looming library due date (this Friday).

This material will be a great resource for my students when I teach about health psychology, stress management, and positive psychology. I think it will also help me with examples of cross-cultural psychology – there were some interesting cultural and generational differences that point to why my generation and those after mine are alarmingly unhealthy in America. The most obvious I think is that we don’t move enough. Nike ads and news headlines often remind us that we need to move more. What is maybe less obvious in its effect on our health and longevity is our lack of connection to family, friends, and a community – in particular a faith community. I think this shows our need to have connection and meaning in our life in order to thrive. I think having significant others who are emotinally healthy and share our values also help us continue to improve our own lives.

The Blue Zone areas, by the way, are: Sardinia, Italy;  Okinawa, Japan;  Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, CA. I was surprised that there was a Blue Zone in America, and surprised that he actually focused on a particular group that live in the Loma Linda area – 7th Day Adventists! But then I thought of the very happy, healthy co-worker of mine who is a devout Adventist and it made sense ;).

I thought I would share some of the notes I did take down, primarily from the summary chapter 6, but also the website and other tips from throughout the book. Here are brief descriptions of the “Power 9”:

  1. Move Naturally  – besides regular scheduled exercise, move! Garden, walk, move at work more, stop taking shortcuts, yoga
  2. Eat less – Less than 2000 calories per day. Tips and tricks: Don’t leave food out during a meal (put it in the fridge or wrap it up, don’t put serving plates on the table), make food look bigger (such as putting on veggies onto a sandwich  or burger to make it look more substantial), use smaller plates, eat largest meal earlier in the day and have a light dinner, make snacking inconvenient, eat slowly, think about the food
  3. Plant Slant – Eat less meat and less processed foods. 4 to 6 vegetable servings, limit meat, keep fruit and veggies easy to eat, eat beans and nuts (be careful of portions), eat soy
  4. Grapes – a glass of red wine each day. Have with some nuts while relaxing and having a great conversation (this was obviously not a part of the 7th Day Adventist Blue Zone!).
  5. Purpose – personal mission statement, be a life long learner, volunteer. This one struck me a lot – the centenerians still felt they had meaning and purpose despite their age!
  6. Down shift – stress relief. Turn off the TV, computer, etc. Be early to meetings and events, work, etc., meditate
  7. Belong – Spiritual dimension of your life, live in the now rather than in the past, be a part of a faith community
  8. Family – prioritize your loved ones. Get physically closer – our homes are really big! Where does the family gather together? Establish rituals, find a way to remember your ancestry (you are part of something bigger), connect to the older generations (living and deceased).  Invest in your family.
  9. Right Tribe – Your friendship support system needs to support good values for living. Who is my inner circle? Do they support healthy habits? Be likable. Spend time with good friends. Laugh!

The website has some interesting tools that the book did not. You can do two self-assessments on your own personal happiness and longevity. The site then gives you tips on how to improve on our happiness and how to increase your longevity.

I took  the “True Happiness” test. I got a B+. These are my tips:

Personalized Recommendations:

  • Reduce TV
  • Sleep 7-9 hours
  • Hang out with happy people
  • Get more sunshine time

I know those first two are absolutely necessary in my life! Our TV is on much too often, and this leads to me getting less sleep. I have found that as I have spent more time at the ranch in the last few years, my overall outlook has improved and I’ve often thought it was the exercise, sunshine, and people that were the key ingredients!

I also took the Vitality Compass inventory. My health history, weight, and lifestyle definitely leave room for improvement! The good news is that by changing a few habits I could add years to my life. These were my recommendations to add over 11 years to my life:

  •  Cut out junk food
  • Reduce salt
  • Eat more fish
  • Get more sleep
  • Eat more fruit

I was surprised at my top two recommendations. We have greatly reduced our fast food and junk food intake. We don’t eat out of “boxes” and have fresh fruits and vegetables every day. I think I am pretty mindful of my sodium intake. I was expecting “exercise” to be in the top five! Notice that Sleep is mentioned on BOTH of my lists! Hmmm….On that note, time to publish this blog and go SLEEP!

Want to read the book? Here is the citation, you can also click on it to go to the Amazon page for ordering (NO, I’m not taking a fee for this recommendation!):

Buettner, D. (2008). The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest . Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Changing Your Mind

March 1, 2012

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of eating lunch with a former student. We reconnected recently – thank you HopeWell Ranch and Facebook! – and it was a gratifying experience to listen to her talk to me about where she was in life then, when she was my student, and where she is now. I am also grateful for a few things mentioned in our conversation today because it got me thinking about a blog topic I have been mulling over and gave me the impetus to start writing it!

As a student of Psychology, and now a Christian, she shared that she had found the cognitive theories of Psychology to be appealing. The Bible says in Romans 12 that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. It doesn’t surprise me that cognitive psychologists find that their clients find real life change when their thinking about themselves and the world around them changes. Cognitive psychology theories point to faulty, maladaptive patterns of thinking and feeling as the root of many of our problems. The Apostle Paul knew this about 2,000 years ago! (I have found that there are very few “new” ideas in Psychology, just new words to describe what ancients have observed in human behavior for a very long time!). As I reflect on my own life, the points at which I observe the most transformation are the points that some viewpoint or interpretation of myself or of others made a switch.

I mentioned in my previous blog that I attended the Great Lakes Equine Classic a few weeks ago because there was a session on equine-assisted healing facilitated by Kimberly Cardeccia on the schedule. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had actually met Kimberly at the MI-EAGALA meeting in January! The session was in the last time slot of the day, so though the weather was getting quite frightful, and I was getting texts from friends warning me of a terrible pileup on the highway I needed to take to get home, I was determined to stay! Travel wise, it turned out to be a good decision because the weather began to clear up, the snow plows had time to do their work, and the terrible car accident was cleared up freeing up my way home! Professionally and personally it was also a good decision because Kimberly comes from a similar theoretical background as me, but with the training of a counselor that I do not have. After listening to the horse specialists, it felt a bit like coming home after a trip to another country where I don’t quite know the language. Kimberly speaks my language – psychology!

There were only a few of us in attendance, so we just all sat at a round table while Kimberly explained her methods and why riding horses helps clients to transform. She still provided us with her handouts for her presentation (called ‘Healing Through Riding: From the Inside Out’), which have been so helpful to me! Those of you who are from Michigan can see her at the MSU Horse Expo next weekend, by the way, and so as not to step into her work too much, I just want to summarize a little bit of what she presented.

One of the things she touched on was the relationship between change in our thinking and change in our brains. In March, when I attend the National EAGALA Conference, I am signed up for a seminar that I hope will go into this more. There is something about the gross motor movements in exercises like horseback riding that seems to assist in this structural change in our brains. It is good for clients with neurological isssues, it doesn’t seem farfetched to me that it would also be good for clients with emotional/mental issues as well.

Kimberly’s methods are aimed at helping her clients get reconnected to their own selves. A horse, being a sensitive animal, will recognize when we are being incongruent with our commands and body language, and when we are not in an aligned position that allows clear communication from our bodies to theirs. As we adjust ourselves to be congruent and aligned, it will bring about the changes in our thought life that can bring about changes in our lives. This in turn enables us to set goals that make more sense for our lives.

One other nugget that has stuck with me is that patterns in our lives will eventually come out in some way everywhere. Think about this, when you have an acquaintance from work that only sees you in that context, they may make assumptions about your lifestyle based on limited evidence. However, over time and with enough situations to observe you in, they may find some surprises for them that would not be a surprise to your spouse, your mother, or your kids! The same would be true for a therapist and client. Eventually, the patterns that may be problematic for a client in other arenas of their life will eventually come out. It would be to their benefit, and make therapy more effective, if those patterns could emerge sooner rather than later. By putting a client in an experiential exercise, such as riding a horse, those patterns will likely more quickly emerge than multiple 50 minute sessions sitting in a therapist’s office.

If you are interested in learning more about what Kimberly does, the website for her practice is: You can also find Hidden Promise on Facebook, and you can sign up for a newsletter.