The field of trauma-informed care promotes a number of key principles that guide the EQUUSOMA Approach and are foundational not only for clients, but also the animals participating and human co-facilitators as well. All Equine-Facilitated Trauma Therapy interventions emphasize the following:
- Trauma Awareness
Best practices in the field of trauma treatment promote a staged approach to therapy, known as the tri-phasic model. Originally suggested by psychologist Pierre Janet in the 1800s and further elaborated upon by psychiatrist Judith Herman in her seminal work, Trauma and Recovery, there have since been different variations on the tri-phasic model as evidenced by staged models like Somatic Experiencing®, EMDR, and others. However, they all generally follow the same process:
- Safety and Stabilization (focusing on building safety in the therapeutic relationship and a foundation of emotion regulation)
- Trauma Processing (occurs differently using different approaches)
- Reconnection (engaging in life and post-traumatic growth)
The EQUUSOMA Approach and Somatic Experiencing® correspond generally to this idea of a progression in stages within trauma treatment, with trauma-informed principles woven throughout. It is important to note that the 3 stages aren’t always linear, and that movement between the stages can be in either direction. Also, similar to Somatic Experiencing®, EQUUSOMA trauma treatment doesn’t necessarily have to involve the direct reprocessing of trauma memories and specific events. Treatment can focus on other aspects of trauma recovery without going into trauma narratives.
Working with trauma narratives is also a possibility in EQUUSOMA and Somatic Experiencing®, when a client has enough regulation and containment on board to do so in Stage 2. However, when someone has been silenced for years and is seeking validation from a caring witness before the necessary foundation of self-regulation is in place in Stage 1, then finding ways to support the sharing and witnessing of one’s story while remaining in dual awareness in one’s window of tolerance as much as possible becomes an important part of building safety and trust. Grounding skills, present time orientation, resourcing, and the ability to track and titrate sharing are important regardless of what stage treatment is at. In some cases, there is no clear narrative to work with; this can happen with early developmental trauma, where there may not be conscious memory or the experiences were pre-verbal. This is why working somatically and with attachment is so crucial, because the “body keeps the score” even in the absence of a verbal story.
It is worth noting that people often think that unless they are doing “stage 2” or “stage 3” work they are not doing “real” trauma therapy (shame and an urgency to get better quickly are often behind this belief). However, this is untrue. Stage 1 work is indeed trauma therapy, and can be deeply transformational in and of itself.