My work is based on the notion that the emotion that drives those of us to love horses, that bodily feeling of comfort we often have when we are near them, or even just see a photo of one, is connected to the life force within us that pulls us from our darkest moments. One of the adolescents I work with experiences great vacillations in her mood, and often suffers from a depression so severe she can’t move. When she is in a dark state her perceptions are marred by this darkness. She will creatively bend reality to fit her negative internal landscape. I use the word creative here because it takes a great deal of imagination to constantly twist reality towards the negative when one is in this sort of state. She can interpret any response or suggestion negatively. If there is silence she will fill it with self-criticism.
Of course the more negative we feel about ourselves, the more negative our interpretations are of reality, and the more we prove that there is something to feel depressed about. Further, if we are feeling depressed and interpreting the actions of others negatively they will often react to this negative mood with defended, or damaging gestures and verbal responses. As often is the case, this teen’s traumatic history created and supports her negative view of herself. Thus, it is understandable that she has learned to feel this way about herself. However, it is imperative that she find a way to see the parts of reality that do not support this negative self view if she is going to save herself from this debilitating depression. When she works with me I will often search for a way to help her move off of this cycle of depression, without devaluing her sense of reality. Without the help of my therapeutic horse, Jake, I’m not sure how I could accomplish this.
Thankfully, this client has that “thing” within that pulls one uncontrollably to love a horse(s). More, she is extremely intelligent, sensitive and caring of others. Her friends adore her, and they often will go to her when they have problems because they know she will understand. Hence, there are a lot of positive messages and experiences in her life, but she has to be able to “see” them. When she is riding Jake we talk about her feelings, her experiences and her often negative perceptions of herself, and the actions of others in relation to herself. When she is in these deeply depressive moods language, no matter how clever I might be as her therapist on a given day, does not help her to perceive even a small part of her world as positive. However, the one thing she can’t argue with is that visceral positive sense of attachment she has in relationship to Jake, for Jake, and the other horses in her life.
No matter how stuck she might be in the shadows of her history, when I ask her to pause in her feeling of attachment to Jake, her appreciation of him, love for him, and to consciously acknowledge and remember that bodily experience she can’t help but be moved.
In that moment she can create a positive feeling in her body, her mood and so in her sense of self. That feeling for Jake, that moment of perception of Jake’s beauty becomes part of her own body. In a sense she can experience his beauty as her own.
From that tiny, but foundational experience of beauty within herself, she has been able to move off the circle of depressive reaction and action towards a more full sense of self. Like a rope thrown to someone drowning she can call upon that memory, and pull her way up and out.