Reflections in Community

Reflections in Community

I’m still basking in the joy of connection post-summit. Deep gratitude to all of you who joined us for our Diversifying The HERD 2022 Virtual Summit! As always, in the lead up to these events, I am so focused on the details and tasks that go into creating these spaces that I sometimes forget to embrace the joy that these events bring. In our commitment to challenging our field to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and create a community of belonging for our HERD members, we are constantly reminded of the hard work required behind the scenes in any organization to transform DEI from acronym to action. Occasionally, I’m also reminded of how important it is to stop grinding, look up, and take in the beauty of what we’ve created. This is one of those moments.

I felt so much joy to be in community with the next generation of leaders in our field. Our keynote speakers, Abriana Johnson and Brittney Chambers, offered a sensational session on how to decolonize equine programs. This dynamic duo are inspirational, thought provoking powerhouses, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their presence.

It was also wonderful to see the familiar faces of our HERD members in the audience, as well as folks who came from outside of our community. Coming together with all our various approaches is the essence of diversity, and I really appreciated the different perspectives you all offered.

We are living in interesting times. The endemic nature of COVID has created so much uncertainty and has taken its toll on many of us working in the helping professions. When my dear friend and colleague, Elizabeth McCorvey, and I first talked about creating a summit that centered on the work and experiences of marginalized folks, our motivation came from constantly seeing a lack of representation in this space. All those conferences and summits that we’d attended where we were often the only people of color, and where speaker line-ups were a sea of white faces. Yet, we knew that there were a ton of practitioners of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and other historically marginalized individuals in the field who are doing some incredible work in their communities. Our hope is that by increasing representation, we can encourage a new generation of practitioners to enter the field and actively increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Within The HERD Institute®, I am incredibly proud of our team’s efforts in diversifying our HERD community. Part of our DEI strategy was creating our Commitment of Belonging, that declares proudly and loudly to everyone interested in our programs, the values that we hold as an organization. This commitment is now part of our organizational DNA. Potential students applying to our programs receive this as part of their application process. We ask them to read and sign this commitment before we even consider their application. Our DEI strategy has also meant that we offer an automatic 20% discount to BIPOC folks, and we’ve offered scholarships to individuals we especially want to support through our programs. While this may seem like a short-term measure, my eye is on the bigger picture in the long term. I see Step 1 as increasing the diversity within our student population. Step 2 is in identifying students who show potential as instructors, so that we can also bring more diversity into our faculty team. This bottom-up approach helps us to identify gaps in our DEI strategy, policies, and practices. Getting feedback from our students is especially important in identifying these gaps. A small shift can make a big difference.

Since implementing our DEI strategy, our student demographics have shifted from being only 9% of black, indigenous, and people of color, and/or openly LGBTQ+ folks to almost 25% in the last 3 years. In one workshop recently, 50% of the cohort were people of color and/or openly LGBTQ+. This significant increase represents the undeniable impact of centering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our enrollment strategy, and is a step towards honoring our vision of making our trainings accessible to those who are historically under-served. By offering a safer and more inclusive experience for folks who have traditionally felt unwelcomed into this space, we can support practitioners to serve their communities from within their cultural contexts. This is what it means to turn DEI from an acronym into action. These are the themes that we explored during the summit.

If you were unable to attend the summit on the day, and this has piqued your interest, please go to our summit website, and join us in community. The summit is now available to purchase with lifetime access so you can take your time to digest the materials. Watch how our presenters and panelists navigated difficult conversations, created opportunities for connection, and ask important questions about what comes next.

To all our presenters, panelists, attendees, and all of you who are committed to doing this hard work – thank you for being part of the journey with The HERD, and I look forward to our continued connections!

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

Owning My Mistakes

Owning My Mistakes

Not gonna lie – the past three weeks have been a struggle for us here at The HERD! Due to unforeseen circumstances, we found ourselves short staffed during our busiest time of year. Leading an organization through a rough patch without putting undue expectations and burdens on staff members who are already working at capacity is a juggling act. I’m grateful to our team behind the scenes who were willing to step up and flex with changes. It’s at times like these that I really feel the complexities of running an organization and recognize the importance of communications within our community. And while there will always be bumps in the road, our commitment to our core values of creating an intentionally inclusive learning environment through a lens of cultural humility remains front and center.

Amid our scrambling to find a staffing solution, I was momentarily persuaded to consider outsourcing our requirements offshore. My friends who work in corporate environments encouraged me to explore hiring a virtual assistant through an agency that contracts workers in India and the Philippines. They gave me solid business (i.e. financial) reasons why this would be suitable for my needs while allowing me to get tasks completed, suggesting that I needed someone to fill the gap so why not try this as an interim arrangement. There were so many logical reasons why this was a good idea: cheaper, more efficient, task-focused workers who would be paid an hourly rate above what they would get locally for similar roles, so surely there was no ethical dilemma? “These people are grateful for these jobs and the level of pay, and they work really hard”, I was told.

Maybe. Maybe not. With my business lens, I could absolutely see how this might be beneficial to me. With my ethical lens, I could not justify this colonial perspective. But I dithered and was persuaded to try it under the guise of no harm, no foul – and I was desperate for help.

Ultimately, after one day, I realized that I had gaslit myself. Every fiber of my being was rejecting the dynamics of the situation, so I put a stop to the process. This was not okay. It did not align with our values as an organization; it did not feel authentic or relational; and I felt I had compromised my core beliefs. The shame that came with this realization was enormous and yet I am grateful for this experience. Now, I know how easy it can be to choose convenience over actually walking the walk. Now, I know that at times of struggle and moments of desperation, I will make mistakes but will also have the courage to correct them. Now, I know with certainty, that my actions speak louder than words and that if I am truly committed to doing the work required to dismantle systems of oppression, I need to pay attention to ways our society condones these systems by couching them in business efficiency. It’s also yet another reminder to listen to my gut.

With that said, I can proudly announce that we are open for registrations for our 2nd Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit, which will be held on Saturday, September 10, 2022 from 9am – 6pm EST. This year, we are focusing on the intersectionalities in discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our keynote speakers, Abriana Johnson and Brittney Chambers, will present on how to decolonize your equine programs. We’ll be bringing back panelists Kathy Alm, CEO, PATH International, and Michael Kaufmann, from Green Chimneys, and introducing Nahshon Cook and Patricia Jackson, in a discussion on how to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to all levels of your organization. We’ll be exploring what inclusion feels like and reflecting on what has changed in the 18 months since our first Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit. Join us to learn in community, acknowledging what we don’t know, and the mistakes we make along the way, so that we can take intentional action to continue to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the equine facilitated industry.

I know I still have a lot to learn. I look forward to connecting with you all on Saturday, September, 10!

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

Independence Day

Independence Day

This year, I celebrated my first Independence Day as a US citizen. I hold deep gratitude for this land of the free and home of the brave that has become my adopted home. There’s so much that I love about this great nation. The opportunities that have come my way that have allowed me to create a business doing what I love could be seen as the epitome of the American Dream.

Hard work pays off, right? This belief that if you work hard, persevere, and focus on manifesting your dreams, meritocracy will reward you for your efforts, and anyone and everyone is capable of achieving upward mobility, success, and independence.

So, I got my head down and studied hard. I completed my PhD in 3 years (because I couldn’t pass up the bargain of flat rate tuition per semester rather than per credit hour – thanks to my Chinese value-for-money instincts, that nearly killed me). I was offered a publishing deal for my first book on my graduation day, established a training institute 3 months later, published my second book during the pandemic, and am now being honored by the American Psychological Association, Society for Humanistic Psychology, with an Early Career Award for Outstanding Contributions and Innovative Applications to Psychology.

What??!!

It appears that I’m the first woman of color to receive this recognition, an award given to someone within ten years of completing a doctoral program. To say that I am overwhelmed would be an understatement. I am honored and grateful to the Awards Committee for this recognition, and as always, deeply moved by my mentor, Dr. Louis Hoffman’s, faith in my development and for nominating me for the award.

Now, for me to claim credit for this award as an independent achievement would be to collude with this fantasy that the American Dream is available to all. I did not achieve any of this on my own – nor would I have wanted to or have any desire to claim to. I was able to complete my doctoral program without the need for overwhelming student loans due to my family’s support; I absorbed by osmosis astute financial acumen from a family of entrepreneurs; mentors connected me with publishers that they had published through, and I had role models who encouraged and supported me every step of the way. The reality is that I have lived an enormously privileged life and the opportunities that have come my way were borne out of these privileges, and unlikely to have landed in my lap were it not for these privileges. Of course, I also exist in the intersections of being a person of color and have other experiences that are less privileged, but that’s also why I’m engaging with this topic here. As equine facilitated practitioners, we pride ourselves on meeting our clients and horses where they’re at, which necessitates a deep dive into our own implicit biases so that we can show up and engage with them without doing additional harm.

My focus over the past few years has been to create a soft place to land for black, indigenous, and people of color in the equine facilitated industry, as well as for other marginalized folks who have always been part of the horse world but rarely acknowledged or seen for their contributions. It’s been scary to put myself out there as an agitator in our industry and while there’s definitely
been pushback on my message for the need to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the equine industry, I’ve also been supported by a number of people who understand the need to challenge the status quo. I’m grateful to those individuals who have stood as allies in this process, in particular, Kathy Alm, CEO of PATH International, and Shannon Knapp, Founder of Horse Sense of The Carolinas. The advantage in working with horses is that since the power dynamics that are present in human systems of oppression have directly translated into how humans relate to horses, by challenging those dominant ways of being with horses, we are able to help folks see the parallels in the human world. We recently launched our Inclusive HERD™ workshop series which offers mental health practitioners, coaches, and educators an equine facilitated experience while exploring their own understanding of what it means to be inclusive, and the impact this intentional inclusion can have on their clients.

I feel like this Early Career Award is a professional coming-of-age moment, an opportunity to pause and reflect on how far The HERD Institute has come, and to offer gratitude to all of YOU – our students, graduates, members, and faculty team for everything that you contribute towards this incredible community that we are co-creating. For me, Independence Day isn’t about forging ahead, alone and disconnected, but rather the acknowledgment of the power of joining forces towards a common goal and the necessity of being interconnected and knowing that we are all in it together. Independence Day always brings forth a revolutionary spirit and I am so thankful to be fighting the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion, with all of you. Thank you for being a
part of this community.

Warmly,

Veronica Lac
Executive Director

When the Going Gets Tough We McCabe It

When the Going Gets Tough We McCabe It

What I love about being a therapist is that I have license to be curious about everything that happens between me and my client in the therapy process. I am eternally fascinated by how people assimilate novel experiences, challenge their habitual patterns that no longer serve them, and how in that process we can collaborate to find a new way of being-in-the-world that allows them to live more freely, with purpose and meaning, and raise awareness of those moments when they feel stuck.

While I hold an extensive list of credentials and academic experience, much of what I’ve learned in how to be a therapist, coach, and educator, with or without horses, has come from thousands of hours of practicing what we teach, honing those skills by living and breathing them, rather than reading about them. This embodied way of working is fundamental to the HERD approach and for many of our students, getting in tune with their bodily process is their biggest growing edge.

Many of you will be familiar with our talented faculty member, Alison McCabe, who has been instrumental in the development and delivery of both our Equine Facilitated Learning and Psychotherapy Certification programs. Alison and I have known each other for about ten years now and I am so incredibly grateful and honored to call her a friend and colleague. Over the years, we have become familiar with each other’s ways of being-in-the-world, enjoyed countless conversations that dig deep into our emotional processes, and shared the joys and heartaches in our lives with each other. Through recent conversations with another faculty member, Elizabeth McCorvey, we realized that Alison’s “method” of embodiment needed to be shared with the wider world.

The McCabe Method™ is striking in its “simplicity”. I put quotation marks around that to acknowledge that while the concept is simple, the process is hard! Between Alison, Elizabeth, and I, when the going gets tough, we refer to the need to McCabe it:

Name it. Claim it. Love it. Feel & Move through it.

  1. Name it: What is happening right now? What is the emotion? What is the felt sense of the situation?
  2. Claim it: Whose emotions are these? What belongs to me and what is being placed on me? Can I claim my part in the process? What feelings come up when I claim it? Most importantly, can I claim it and accept it with absolute acknowledgement that it is part of me without distancing myself from it?
  3. Love it: How can I hold compassion for what I have claimed is mine? Especially when it comes with a hint of shame or judgement on myself, am I able to hold a loving attitude towards that part of me?
  4. Feel & Move through it: Where am I feeling that in my body? What happens when I focus on that? Do I need to move my body to allow for more awareness and/or for that feeling to dissipate? Am I able to let it go with the movement? What do I need to let go and what do I need to hold onto? How does this shift impact the relationships I am experiencing with those around me?

What’s happening for you, right now? As you’re reading this, pay attention to your own bodily sensations and notice what comes up. Next time you feel a rush of emotions in response to an interaction or event, allow yourself to McCabe it and see what happens. From experience, I can tell you it’s a game changer. We have tried and tested The McCabe Method™ in countless situations. For me, it’s a great way to remind myself of staying with the 3 Key Principles of The HERD Model: Here and Now, What and How, I and Thou. It’s also an excellent reminder that whatever I’m experiencing, I’m not experiencing it on my own. After all, as we always highlight in our HERD Community, it’s all about relationships, we are all connected, and we all belong.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

Awareness, Alignment, Alliance

Awareness, Alignment, Alliance

May was Mental Health Awareness Month. It was also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Additionally, folks have also celebrated May Day, Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day. Aside from Star Wars Day, when I feel compelled to respond to every meme and greeting of “May the Fourth be with you” with “May the Horse be with you”, each of these events and highlighted issues feel complex to me in how we honor and/or celebrate them. I’m aware of conflicting emotions around how I might identify, or not, with the issue and my struggle to be intentional in how I engage.

As a therapist, of course I want to bring awareness to mental health issues. I want to challenge the stigma that is so often associated with needing mental health support. I want to humanize rather than pathologize those with mental health diagnoses. I want to highlight the discrepancies in levels of care and the obstacles to treatment for those in marginalized groups. Most of all, I want folks to understand that there is hope and a way out of the darkness of the depression, isolation, and shame that they might be experiencing.

But mental health isn’t only about medical diagnoses. It’s about recognizing our own limitations and the expectations that we set ourselves, while also knowing that the ability to attend to self-care is a privilege many do not have. It’s about acknowledging that we are not superhuman and that the 40-hour work week was never designed for us to do it on our own, and that the system is skewed by patriarchal values to leave many women with the larger burden of care while chasing after the myth of a work-life balance. Mental health awareness is in understanding that the American Dream is built on the backs of those who disproportionately do not have access to mental health care and are often also those who need it the most.

As an Asian woman in the United States, and as a newly sworn in citizen, this is the first time that I am celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month as an Asian American. That terminology feels both familiar and alien to me. Am I American now? I have an American passport so legally and technically I am, and I have lived in the United States for over a decade now, but I am also aware that I do not share the experiences of many Asian Americans, their struggles, their identities, or their history. I’m conscious of not co-opting the experience of Asian Americans with my British Chinese way of being in the world, which is an entirely different heritage. This nuanced awareness and intention of not engaging in cultural appropriation also showed up in my lack of desire to celebrate May Day and Cinco de Mayo. For me, the history and heritage of these celebrations are sacred and not a vehicle for commercialization.

All of these dates are celebrated and commemorated in different ways within the cultural communities that honor them and yet so often become co-opted by mainstream culture into a commercial venture without acknowledgment of the meaning behind the celebration. How many people know the heritage and meaning behind Cinco de Mayo? How many of us have participated in celebrations with drinking and festivities without thought to what we are celebrating? Or joined in with May Day celebrations without awareness of the cultural differences this day represents? Are we reveling in the start of the summer season or are we revolting against the tyranny of capitalism? Are we celebrating Mother Earth from a Pagan tradition or honoring those who fought valiantly against unjust labor laws?

I happened to be in Europe on May 1st this year and was reminded that May Day is a public holiday, akin to Labor Day in the States. I had forgotten the significance of May Day and it was a great reminder of how easy it is to become centered within one’s culture/environment/nation perspective to the exclusion of a more global view. I’m thankful for the privilege of experiencing different perspectives.

I was moved to tears when a friend sent me a text on Mother’s Day. Knowing that this day is always accompanied by grief for me, she wanted me to know that in her mind, the definition of a mother is an important female figure in the origin and early history of something who shapes and changes the lives of those in her care, and for that reason she wanted to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day on behalf of all those I have cared for as a human educator and therapist, and guardian of my non-human children. This shift in perspective feels so precious to me and allows me to hold both grief and gratitude simultaneously.

So, as we transition into a new season, I’m attending to this process of (re)evaluation. What and who do I identify with and/or want to be aligned with? How do my values and beliefs show up in my actions? How might a shift in perspective help me to understand another’s experience? What actions can I take to challenge the status quo to help dismantle systems of oppression? What am I moving towards and who am I journeying with? And, how can I take care of myself while doing all that? I invite you to join me in this quest to increase awareness, alignment, and alliance to what matters most to you.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

In the Room Where it Happened

In the Room Where it Happened

In the Room Where It Happens

I never want to be in the room where it happens.
These tragedies that keep replaying.
Again, and again.
I never want to hear the screams of terror, grief, and anger in the aftermath
of these atrocities that keep repeating.
Again, and again.
I never want to feel the anguish and fear of the first responders who rush to the scene,
nor of the teachers acting as human shields,
nor of the parents whose precious children
are in the room where it happens.
No one wants to be in the room where it happens.
But we all are.

–V. Lac, May 2022

 

We all see the trends, over, and over again. In the aftermath of mass shootings, there follows a media frenzy calling for gun control, policies and change versus thoughts and prayers, which is predictably met with arguments in defense of the Second Amendment. We, The People, ruled by the Constitution, are stuck in a seemingly never-ending loop of trauma, grief, and debate. It is time for change.

The HERD Institute® stands in solidarity with those who are fighting for change to protect innocent lives. This is not some idealistic, humanitarian philosophy or vision. Our HERD community members are often the ones who help pick up the pieces in the aftermath of these events. The layers of trauma and grief we see as mental health practitioners, educators, and coaches are evident in every session we facilitate and hold space for. The tsunami of trauma brought on by gun violence impacts us all. While HERD members can offer crisis management, emergency care, and support groups through community programs, the focus needs to be on prevention rather than response. The impact on survivors of these events, for those in the room where it happened, and their support network, often results in post-traumatic stress that lasts for years. While school shootings, like Uvalde, may appear on the news cycle temporarily, the impact on the community will be permanent.

Children were murdered. Children.

What will you do to help prevent this from happening again? Want some resources and more information? Here is a list to get you started. Consider your options. Most importantly, please take action in some way. Thoughts and prayers are great but not enough. We need to all be in the room for this change to happen.

Resource List

1 www.preventioninstitute.org

2 www.everytown.org

3 Article: Other countries had mass shootings

4 https://gun-control.procon.org/

5 https://www.bradyunited.org/

6 https://marchforourlives.com/policy/

In solidarity and in grief,

Veronica
Executive Director