Participants' lived experiences of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) - an exploratory study

Svendsen, Irene (2008) Participants' lived experiences of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) - an exploratory study. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


A new therapeutic approach is beginning to emerge in addiction clinics across England. Known as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) the approach uses equines in experiential activities with clients to facilitate psychological change. Despite its increasing popularity in practice, there is a dearth of research addressing the efficacy of the approach. Furthermore, there is no published research about how clients experience EAP. To address this gap in the research literature, the present study investigates the clients' lived experiences of EAP and how these are perceived to facilitate therapeutic change.

Transcripts of semi-structured interviews with eight male participants who had participated in EAP as part of their therapeutic program at an in-patient addiction clinic are analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).

The findings suggest that the personal history of each participant (prior to EAP) strongly impacts upon their experience of EAP. Participants gain an increased access to their cognitions and emotions through the way they personally react to the horses' behaviours. Through these dynamics between horse and human, participants begin to make links between their experiences in the EAP arena and their world outside of therapy. Often the horse-human relationships mirror those of the participants' human-human relationships. In addition, participants describe developing relationships with the horses that are perceived to meet emotional needs. All of these aspects of the EAP work contribute towards the participants' overall therapeutic change.

The findings support current practitioners' anecdotal writings about the potential therapeutic effects of EAP. Furthermore, the study has implications for the use of EAP within Counselling Psychology due to its emphasis upon relationships and value of the subjective experience.

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