"I wish you could hear yourself." As I child, I heard this often from my non-ADHD mom. I thought she was crazy; my hearing was fine.
After my ADHD diagnosis, at 47, I realized that people with attention deficit disorder are poor self-observers. It took 40 years, but I finally knew what my mom was talking about.
My words and actions were at odds with my intentions. Until my treatment, this mismatch played havoc with my relationships, leaving me hurt and baffled. Since then, I've discovered Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) -- which uses a horse's uncanny ability to mirror the emotions and attitudes of his handlers. As you interact with a horse, you learn to observe and respond to his behaviors instead of staying stuck in your patterns of behavior. After a session, counselors talk with clients about what they learned. This therapy has helped me become aware of how others see me and how to make sure my words and actions match my intentions.
Many children and adults with ADHD are drawn to EAP, because it is stimulating and fun. Although kids and adults love to work with horses, the focus of EAP is not on riding or horsemanship -- the participants remain on the ground -- but on following the instructions of their therapy team: a certified Equine Specialist (ES), a licensed mental health professional, and a horse.
Sue Bass, an equine specialist at Hope Ranch, in Rochester, Minnesota, and her team had been working with three young siblings from a blended family. The two eldest were frustrated by the youngest daughter, who, says Bass, "had no boundaries, would barge into their rooms, and generally annoy them." Bass noticed that when the youngest child entered the arena, a young miniature horse started annoying the big horses. "He reared up at them, nipping," says Bass. "Then, he started going after the youngest girl's shoes. He didn't hurt her; he was being a total pest." This annoyed the child, who tried to get away from him.
"The older girls looked at each other, and asked their younger sibling whom the horse reminded her of," says Bass. "The focus of the session changed, in a flash, to the youngest girl's behavior." The young girl had a firsthand experience of what her sisters went through every day. "We couldn't have planned it better ourselves!" adds Bass.
Next: How It Works