What is Contextual Horse Therapy?

Contextual Horse Therapy (CHT) is a form of Systemic Therapy in which horses are used as co-therapists. The interaction with the horses provides a (deep) experiential form of therapy where clients get in touch with their emotions and are mirrored in their behaviour.

Contextual Horse Therapy (CHT) takes place in nature.

During treatment, two psychotherapeutic methodologies are combined: equine therapy (Eagala Model) and systemic therapy. The Eagala Model sees the horse as a sensitive co-therapist; the team facilitates. Equine therapy focuses on the emotional experience and meaning-making of animal behaviour in response to client(s).

Hesther Selbeck developed this treatment from her background and expertise as a Systemic Therapist in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. There, she experienced a challenge in changing patterns between family members and generating hope and perspective. She questioned the context of the clinic on adolescents’ psychiatric behaviour. While travelling on horseback through Mongolia, she discovered a process of interaction between her and the horse. There was an interaction going on. These insights and experiences became the basis for CHT.

Nb. For all treatments, no other clients are present at the location.

10-day CHT adolescents and parents (family)

Contextual Horse Therapy was developed in 2014 for young people aged between 12 and 18 years old with severe psychiatric, behavioural and systemic problems. For ten days, the adolescent (and his parents) follows a treatment program that takes place at the location Quinta Madre de Aqua in the mountains of Serra da Estrela.

The intake takes place in coordination with referrer/treater. Process diagnostics also takes place on previous interventions to prevent recurrence. Assistance after the CHT is coordinated prior to the start of treatment.

The program

The treating sociotherapist travels with the young person to Gouveia (Portugal). In the first five therapy days, individual work is done on, among other things, self-confidence, control over anxiety and strengthening leadership through Horse therapy. The individual sessions have a systemic approach.

In the second week, the parents (and brother(s) and sister(s)) are involved in the treatment. They also follow a part of Horse therapy and systemic talks are held in varying combinations. This is interspersed with horse riding trips in the area to leisurely gain new family experiences, which encourage bonding. In the ranch’s restaurant, meals are taken together. In an informal atmosphere, family interactions can be observed, which can be discussed or included in the formal (systemic) therapeutic process at a later time. Therapists can also show exemplary behaviour on sometimes difficult or unpredictable client behaviour. The normalising – informal – interaction is considered highly therapeutic within the treatment, as it promotes an appropriate way of connecting. All interventions focus on connecting the family members, stimulating attachment relationships and breaking negative patterns that cause e.g. separation or feelings of powerlessness.
After the CHT, an evaluation takes place within 2 weeks.

Price on request

Adolescents and adults who have not received sufficient recognition of their feelings or comfort from their parents can learn how to cope with this in therapy

5-day CHT adolescents (individual)

Adolescents diagnosed with various psychiatric disorders, suffering from anxiety, trauma and perceived as therapy resistant by their environment and or treatment providers benefit from individual therapeutic attention.
The 5-day program is identical to that of a 10-day CHT. Horse therapy, horse riding and systemic therapy are alternated daily. There is also the opportunity to play sports, make music or spot wild animals under the therapeutic guidance of the sociotherapist.

Parents are also involved in these 5 days (stay 7 days). However, they are not physically present. Individual and system goals are coordinated during the intake, which takes place in consultation with the referring practitioner. An evaluation takes place within 2 weeks.

Price on request

5-day CHT adults

The 5-day CHT is specifically designed when talking no longer helps and or regular (e.g. systemic therapy/ psychotherapy) treatment gets stuck. Then the program is a valuable addition. The intake and evaluation may take place in the presence of the referring practitioner.

Contextual Horse Therapy (CHT) was partly developed to treat trauma, personality problems, eating disorders, anxiety and mood disorders. Particularly for people who have difficulty sensing their emotions. In short, people with a mental vulnerability of which emotional mood swings or destructive coping, problems interacting with their environment, may be a manifestation (such as aggression). Often, emotions are internalised.

The programme consists of Horse therapy, horseback riding through the mountains and individual (system) sessions with Hesther Selbeck.

Spiritual deepening

This 5-day CHT can also be followed for people in need of deep personal life change or transformation on a spiritual level. Who want to follow their heart, but don’t know how. The program is designed so that there is sufficient time for reflection, rest and/or walking in between the program components.

Price on request