I started working with Mystic 191 days ago. We were paired together at a Cooler Horsemanship clinic on April 29, 2011, and life has never been the same since. If I sound like a teenage girl counting the days I’ve been dating a boy, or a new mother recounting her infant son’s age, that’s no coincidence. Developing a deep relationship with a horse stirs up all kinds of feelings: maternal, loving, bemused, proud, joyous.
As a beginning counselor, I’ve found that a similar process unfolds with my clients. It takes time, commitment, and understanding to develop a trusting relationship. As we log more sessions together, I get to see clients in various mood states; I see them defended and vulnerable, angry and peaceful, hurt and healing. I come to know their patterns of thinking, where their most entrenched beliefs come from, and what wounds lie deepest. Did I say that takes time? Well, let me say it again: Building a therapeutic relationship takes time.
Practicing natural horsemanship takes time too. That’s probably why a lot of people walk away from it, or never try it in the first place. Hurrying the process doesn’t work, with horses or humans. I can vouch for that with a fall I took yesterday after foolishly jumping on Mystic’s back without a saddle, bridle, or reins. I figured our relationship had advanced far enough that I could just skip the riding aids. He immediately sped up while I grabbed his mane and gripped with my legs; the harder I gripped, the faster he went. When he took a rapid turn, I flew off and swallowed a well-deserved mouthful of grit. Mystic paused and looked at me splayed on the ground; my hunch is his thoughts went something like this: Are you crazy? We don’t know each other that well—and you clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Why don’t you slow down and take things in the proper order? Oh, and by the way, James and Kate have a lot to teach you.
Rushing a time-honored process makes me think of my internship site, Family Service of the Piedmont, which has to follow the usual rules of managed care when it comes to mental health services. Typically, health insurance providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medicaid approve 90 days of once-weekly therapy for clients, who struggle with issues like crippling anxiety, PTSD from sexual abuse, and overwhelming depression. The insurers require documented, empirically validated results by the end of that period; if enough progress is indicated, another 90 days may be approved.
Once a week for 90 days equals 12 fifty-minute sessions. I’ve spent 191 days with Mystic, and we’re just getting started. I’m seeing clients for their sixth, seventh, eighth sessions, and we’re just getting started.
It takes time.
Carl Rogers, the granddaddy of person-centered therapy, said, “”In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
Treating and curing versus personal growth: the first two are quick fixes; the other is a process.
I wonder what Carl Rogers would think of natural horsemanship.