A Reluctant Equine Participant – Guest Post by Lindsay Williams

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For quite some months, Tiffany Ashenfelter invited, encouraged and nearly insisted I come to the ranch and learn more about her work doing equine therapy. Though I love animals, and have two cats and a dog at home, I had never been around horses and my eagerness to take her up on this offer was minimal. I kept finding excuses, primarily that I was in my mid-30s and since I hadn’t been near a horse yet, I thought I was past my prime. Simply put, I wasn’t too interested. Even amid hearing the amazing work our shared clients were achieving in equine therapy, I was just fine supporting without first hand experience.

After delaying the inevitable and turning down my talented colleague in the past, my husband and I finally agreed to help Tiffany and her husband Michael with some equine therapy promo material. We arrived on a lovely Saturday evening. I was fully intending on being the helpful coworker who would lend a hand for some photos, but not really engaging in any sort of “real” equine therapy. As we greeted others and began to discuss the evening plans, the idea of having the Ashenfelter’s and their equine team walk us through the typical therapeutic activities was brought up. Everyone agreed this was a grand idea.

I wasn’t so sure because I didn’t really want to do equine therapy.

I didn’t need to build a relationship with my horse. All I was aiming for was keeping my boots clean, my arms looking slender, and my hair photo-worthy amid the Texas humidity. But, approach and bridle a horse. Walk with him or her. Get the horse to trust you. This all sounded a little intimidating and not quite what I had agreed to.

After acknowledging I was a bit anxious and discussing with the other attendees my lack of any sort of history with horses, I was attended to by the team. I was reassured and immediately felt at ease that they were for me and my success and ready to help empower me in the equine therapy work. Soon, we were assigned a horse to approach and connect with. I was given the smallest little guy, Jessie, and I was perfectly happy with it. “It’s just a big dog,” I repeatedly told myself.

I entered Jessie’s space and he allowed me to bridle him before I led him as directed by the therapy team. I spent time petting his mane and back, learning about how his response to me was reflective of my own experience. Jessie and I worked together, alongside my husband and his horse in an easy and comfortable manner. We bonded more than I ever imagined I could with an animal in such a short time. I was surprised at how I felt connected to and protective of “my” horse when we were asked to change horses and work with a new therapeutic equine partner.

As I reflected on why equine therapy went from something I was uninterested in to something I found calming, connecting and insightful, I thought of the relationship with the horse. I went into the experience somewhat anxious and hesitant, and yet while acknowledging those feelings, I acted on my value for relationship. I recognized that amid my uncomfortable feelings, I calmly welcomed the relationship, because it was just that, a relationship.

And relationships are where we learn about ourselves.

My equine therapy experience reminded me I could connect based on the way that I chose to show up, not how my fears enticed me to avoid. The horses were open to me if I was willing to approach them in a safe and unassuming manner. The work provided insights into my personal agency in interactions, awareness of how my feelings sometimes lie to me, and personal satisfaction from acting on my values. And the best is that I was with my husband and all this could easily translate into our marriage relationship.

I would have never guessed all this could come from a few hours with a horse and team of wonderful folks guiding our work together. Equine therapy and working with the Ashenfelter’s was a gift to me as both a colleague and clinician. If you are at all interested in how this work might help you or a client you have, especially if you work with couples, I can’t recommend it enough.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Lindsay Williams is an individual therapist for adolescents and adults at Restoration Counseling in Dallas. By encouraging value driven actions within a safe and confidential relationship, her clients gain self worth and personal empowerment.

Lindsay uses DBT skills and practices alongside professional experience with complex family systems, substance use, depression, anxiety, and divorce.

The Intentional Yes – A Way to Simplify Your Holiday

While most of us can boast of very busy schedules year round, the holiday season is even worse.  There are pressures coming from all sides, end of the year deadlines at work, holiday parties, the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone in your life, family obligations, traffic…the list could go on and on.

Rather than putting our heads down this holiday season and plowing through it let’s try something different.  Let’s slow it down, let’s take some time to enjoy it, revel in it and actually be merry!

How do we do this? Continue reading

Creating an Upward Spiral

We’re all familiar with the idea of the downward spiral, right?  Where one bad choice can lead to another which can lead to another which leads to another and so on…but did you know the opposite is also true?  Good choices can lead to more good choices which lead to more that lead to more and more and so on.  We call that positive momentum an upward spiral.  It’s a positive impact on our heart and mind, a collection of successes and positive choices we have made along the way.

creating an upward spiralLet’s look at a few simple strategies you can take to begin your upward spiral! Continue reading

The Value of Maintenance Care

What are the things in life we seek to maintain?  Our car, home, lawn, body, hair, physical health, budget…just to name a few.  Maintenance care is all around us yet we often overlook it for our mental health.Grass is greener

One of the most common questions we receive from clients & potential clients is “how long will I have to be in counseling?”  This is always a difficult question to answer because there is no black & white answer.  Everyone’s need varies and everyone’s level of motivation to change varies.  Both of which impact the length of one’s time in counseling.

Issues such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, relationship changes, and poor self-esteem don’t develop overnight, which means they don’t permanently go away quickly either. But once Continue reading

Kill Switches of Happiness – Adjusting Expectations

Are your expectations hitting the kill switch to your happiness?

Throughout the years of working with couples and individuals struggling with interpersonal relationships, addictions, anxiety, depression, or simply adjusting to their ever changing lives I have witnessed the turmoil caused by unmet expectations placed upon themselves and others.  People tend to be strongly connected to their expectations, regardless if the expectation is positive or negative. In addition, many individuals will often times gravitate more consistently towards negative or positive expectations.

What is a negative expectation? Expecting the worst or expecting too little from an individual or situation.    The development of this thought process is often times constructed as a protective shield. For example some protective negative expectations are:

  • They will probably leave mepessimist.optimist.realist
  • This diet won’t work for me
  • I bet the cancer has gotten worse
  • My child will never be able to excel

These thoughts are often times justified with, “if I expect the worst I will be prepared and if the worst doesn’t happen I will be pleasantly surprised.” On the surface this appears to be a solid plan of attack. However, while expecting the worst to happen in the future we live in present despair of what may or may not happen, which may cause:

  1. Isolation and limited support – this negative outlook can often times push people away (aka Debbie Downer).
  2. Chronic irritability – moodiness is a natural emotional response of constant negative thinking.
  3. Limits potential and possibilities – people may not try or give up hope if they continually assume they cannot achieve or overcome an obstacle.

What is a positive expectation? Expecting perfection or too much from an individual or situation. This thought process is also often times developed as a measure of protection. Unfortunately behind this protective shield is a mountain of significant avoidance. For example some protective positive expectations are:

  • I have the perfect child that could never disappoint me
  • You are going to be great, with so many treatment options cancer is not a big deal these days.
  • Because my spouse truly loves me, they will understand and meet my needs (i.e. child rearing, frequency of intimacy, household chores, gifts, etc.)
  • Since I’m making such a big financial investment in this weight loss program I won’t cheat or struggle with staying on track.

In comparison to negative expectations, positive expectations also limit our ability to accurately experience the present moment. Expecting too much or perfection can lead us to avoid, or be ill-equipped to manage problems that may arise. While positive expectations are generally meant to be encouraging and supportive, they frequently cause the following reactions:

  1. Immense pressure on ourselves and others – The amount of pressure people can experience in response to positive expectations can be so intense that they are unable to enjoy their accomplishments due to residual amounts of pressure.
  2. Dismiss or overlook the realities in life, avoiding problems – Stunting healthy personal and interpersonal development that may come from addressing the realities of life.
  3. Frustration and unhappiness – Exaggerated expectations will eventually lead to disappointment, simply because not everything in life is going to be perfect or go as planned.

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow

The next time your happiness has been killed, or you just notice you are in a constant rut, stop and ask yourself, “What expectation in this moment is causing this tension?” Fight to not immediately defend or judge your expectation. Once you are aware of your identified expectation put it up against the following test:

  1. Is the expectation true?
  2. Is the expectation helpful?
  3. Is the expectation realistic?

What are the positive and negative expectations that are killing your happiness in the moment? If you or someone you know needs help filtering through personal or relational expectations contact me at Michael@ashenfeltercounseling.com. Stay tuned for 4 Expectations that are Ruining My Marriage and Career Success & Marriage Failure.

Inner Peace: A Natural Face Lift

“Soften your eyes. Relax your face,” I instruct my clients when we are working on deep relaxation in session. And the change is immediate and visible as the lines of tension fall away and a peaceful expression steals over them. When conducting this exercise with a roomful of people, the whole mood of the group changes. You can almost see everyone’s blood pressure go down! For you see, no matter how skillful the face lift, how costly the wrinkle cream, nothing can erase the look of stress, anger, sadness or chronic anxiety from a face when the soul inside is tense and troubled.  Inner peace is like a natural face lift. Continue reading