As a beginning therapist, I remember being terrified of making mistakes with my clients. What if I did more harm than good? What if my interventions missed the mark, and my clients left our sessions feeling misunderstood and more alone?
As part of our training, we experienced practice sessions in both small group settings, and in “fishbowl” large group situations, where students took turns to step into the role of therapist to hone their skills. These sessions were observed by more experienced mentors, trainers, and clinical supervisors, and followed constructive feedback and debriefs. For many of us, these practice sessions were highly anxiety provoking, and often, shame inducing. For me, these sessions were critical to my development as a clinician, and I learnt valuable lessons from the mistakes I made, as well as through watching others work. As nerve-wracking as those sessions were, I remember I was always eager to step up to the plate to practice. I trusted that my fellow students would hold enough empathy, recognizing that we were all in the same boat, and provide compassionate feedback. I also knew that it was the safest place for me to make any mistakes before I launched my newfound skills into the real world. To me, clinical supervision and personal therapy were the bedrock of my development as a practitioner, and something I continued to turn to regularly after completing my training.
In contrast to the USA, counselors and psychotherapists in the UK are required to have a minimum number of clinical supervision hours per year, post-graduation and licensure. So I was shocked to discover that this was not the case in the US. In talking to other mental health professionals, I got the impression that clinical supervision was only necessary during training, and that once you were deemed ready for independent practice, you’d launch into the world and not look back. There was also an undercurrent of shame around the feeling of wanting or needing more supervision than was required.
At The HERD Institute, in both our Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and our Equine-Facilitated Learning Certification programs, practitioners are taught to challenge personal biases, and attend to issues of privilege and power. Our aim is to foster a greater awareness for our potential blind spots without judgment or shame, as it is only through acknowledging our blind spots that we can become more inclusive in our practice. We position mentoring and supervision as a collaborative effort, not only between faculty members and students and graduates, but also within peer groups, as a way to foster creativity, build confidence, and broaden horizons.
I hold this attitude to my own development too as a trainer. Right from the beginning of launching the HERD Institute, I knew that I needed to find ways to support myself in order to provide a secure foundation for my students. So while our modalities may not necessarily be the same, and there are differences in the way we approach the work that we do, I am thankful that I have found a group of leaders in the field of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning who are committed to building each other up. The issues we face as trainers are different to those in clinical practice, and it’s important to recognize those differences when we hold our boundaries as educators rather than therapists. How we design, deliver, and implement our training programs requires yet another set of skills, and often benefits from being critiqued from a different perspective. All of us who are delivering certifications and trainings in this field are faced with business challenges, related to financial, personnel, or equine matters. We are all learning. We are all making mistakes, and learning from each other, and we are all committed to furthering the work of those who came before us in our different ways.
So for those of you who are at the start of your journeys in this work, please know that when I say that it’s important for us to make marvelous mistakes, I’m saying that from a place of compassion, not only for you individually, but also for us all collectively. Yes, there are important ethical practice questions that need to be addressed with regards to scope of practice. Yes, there are critical conversations that need to be held within our field relating to safety and welfare, for both horses and humans. And we may not always agree. Advocating for our horses and our clients and participants does not have to come from a place of judgment, but rather from a deep knowing that we are all imperfect, and we all need support as we develop the art of facilitating this work without it being at the expense of our horses. So I call on all of you to lean on each other, and find support, so that you can go and make mistakes marvelously as you learn.
Special thanks goes out to my support network of incredible mentors and peers: Barbara Rector, Meg Kirby, Ilka Parent, Sarah Schlote, Nina Elkhom Fry, Elisabeth Crabtree, Catherine Friend Gillihan, and Sarah Morehouse.
Dr. Veronica Lac
The HERD Institute