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Therapy Chat

Welcome to Therapy Chat podcast! Whether you're a therapist or not, you'll be fascinated by the discussions on this podcast, which focuses on emotions and well being. Baltimore area clinical social worker Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, specializes in trauma related to family of origin issues and trauma. Laura interviews psychotherapists, authors and other experts about psychotherapy, mindfulness, trauma, worthiness, perfectionism, self compassion, attachment, parenting, self care and much more. Find more about Laura at . 


Oct 28, 2016

How Children Are Like Horses (And Why You Should Care)


If you have been listening to Therapy Chat podcast lately, you know that I have been talking about using equine assisted psychotherapy and education methods to get in touch with our emotional experiences. In Episode 55 I described my own experience of making a deep soul connection in a barn when I spent a Saturday morning at an equine learning workshop with four other women and two horses. That changed me and I am still feeling it, weeks later. I can’t wait to do more – and I will in a couple weeks when I trek to the Hudson Valley for a beautiful Equine Retreat for Therapists and Healers offered by my friends and colleagues Rebecca Wong and Marisa Goudy.


Then in Episode 56 I interviewed Charlotte Hiler Easley, an LCSW and Equine Specialist in Lexington, Kentucky who developed a model called Equine Assisted Survivors of Trauma Therapy that is being used with survivors of sexual assault to experientially teach safety in our bodies, to see what it feels like to set and hold boundaries, and to take care of ourselves in relationship – as well as allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and risk trusting another who may hurt us. This experiential work with survivors of trauma sounds very powerful to me, as someone who has worked for years with trauma survivors; and as someone who has recently had a life-changing experience with horses.


In hearing about Charlotte’s work and after my own experience I realized there are some similarities between children and horses which are very relevant to the therapy work I do with my clients. It might seem like a strange connection, but stay with me. I’m going to tell you about three ways that children are like horses and why you should care.


As I explained in episode 55 and the blog post that went with it – this information comes from the EAGALA website - equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning works for these reasons:


  1. “Because horses are prey animals, they rely on non-verbal cues to stay alive. Their lives depend on accurately reading these cues.” Horses learn from their interactions with us whether or not we are safe, which lets them know if they are safe. Children do the same thing. They read our body language more than our words.


  1. “Like humans, horses are social creatures who live in herds.”We humans are wired for connection, as Brené Brown frequently says. It goes back to attachment. Children need protection and care from the adults they depend on for survival. When a baby is born that child is completely helpless and dependent upon their caregivers for protection. Safety to a newborn baby means being given food, sheltered from the elements and being held and soothed. Physical safety is being protected from harm; emotional safety is “will you be there when I need you? Do you care about what I need?”


  1. “Horses know when what we are saying and doing don't match what we are feeling and sensing, even though we might not know. They reflect back to us what we are feeling and sensing, or the incongruence between our feelings, sensations, words and actions, even (especially) when it's outside of our conscious awareness." Children also notice incongruence between our words and our non-verbal cues. Children know when a parent says they are not mad but they really are. They know when a parent is crying, but says nothing is wrong, that it isn’t true. Why do they pay attention to this? It’s part of how they make sure they are safe. If their primary caregiver isn’t okay, then they aren’t okay, because who will take care of them if something happens to the primary caregiver?


Okay, so I’ve made my case for children being like horses in three ways, but why should you care? Well, you should care if you are a parent because it’s important to understand what your children need in order to thrive. (Click here to listen to Episode 21 on raising well-adjusted children). And you should care even if you aren’t a parent because you were once a child! Yeah, but that was in the past, right? Not so fast! Attachment affects us throughout the lifespan. It shows up in our peer relationships, intimate partner relationships, in our interactions with our coworkers, supervisors and supervisees and it affects how we feel about ourselves in general.


The attachment that develops between a child and their primary caregiver begins immediately at birth. It continues to develop, with the most intense period of attachment development happening between birth and age 3. As I mentioned, children depend upon the attachment with their primary caregivers for survival.


However, attachment repair can happen throughout the lifespan, so even if there was a disruption to secure attachment between the child and the primary caregiver, in most cases it is not too late to change this. In the worst cases of child neglect, in which children are deprived of touch and verbal interaction with their primary caregivers, brain development can be severely impacted. Studies have found a connection between severe child neglect and reduced brain size and changes to structures of the brain using brain scans for side-by-side comparison. You can learn more about this at Dr. Bruce Perry’s Child Trauma Academy, which is found at


In Episode 46 of Therapy Chat I talked with Julie Hanks about how assertiveness is influenced by attachment. In future episodes you’re going to hear a lot more about attachment and trauma. Our next episode will kick off the series on attachment and trauma with an interview with Amy Sugeno, LCSW. Amy is in private practice in Texas, where she specializes in helping people who have experienced childhood trauma, including adoption. Later in the series you’ll hear from Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW; Rebecca Wong, LCSW-R; Brittainy Wagner, LPC; Katie K. May, NCC; David Emerson of the Trauma Center at JRI; David Shannahoff-Khalsa of the UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine; Robert Cox, PLPC and many others. I hope you’ll enjoy this series on a subject which I personally find fascinating. The more I learn, the more I realize the way we show up in our lives is all about attachment.


I can’t wait to share these episodes with you over the coming months. Thank you for listening to Therapy Chat today! I hope you have heard something useful. I’d love to hear your feedback! What do you like, what do you not like? Is there a topic you would like to hear discussed on Therapy Chat? Get in touch with me! Visit and leave a message for me using the green button you’ll see there. And please visit iTunes to leave a rating and review and subscribe to receive all the latest episodes of Therapy Chat! You can find all episodes on the website, and Therapy Chat is also on iHeartRadio, Google Play, Stitcher and YouTube.