- Equine-assisted group work has recently emerged in the empirical literature as a promising treatment approach for a variety of populations, including women trauma survivors (Whittlesey-Jermone, 2014; Shambo, Seely, & Vonderfecht, 2010). However, group therapeutic processes (e.g., therapeutic factors) and group leader characteristics have yet to be studied in equine-assisted groups.
This dissertation encompasses two empirical investigations. The purpose of the first investigation was to delineate group therapeutic factors present in equine-facilitated group psychotherapy (EFGP) for women survivors of interpersonal violence (N = 9), and how these factors occurred over time. After each of the eight-week EFGP intervention groups, participants completed the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ; Kivlighan & Goldfine, 1991), a qualitative assessment which prompts group members to describe their most important session events. Data were examined using a qualitative content analysis approach. Instillation of hope, self-understanding, learning from interpersonal action, and guidance were the most frequently
observed factors in the EFGP group sessions. These therapeutic factors were also found across group session activities, and during group member-to-equine interactions and member-to-member interactions. This study provides a meaningful contribution to the scholarly literature regarding therapeutic processes present during equine-assisted mental health interventions and implications for delivering equine-assisted groups for women trauma survivors.
The second study entailed a cross-sectional survey designed to explore equine-assisted mental health (EAMH) practitioners’ group work education and leadership backgrounds, as well as information about the types of equine-assisted groups they provide. Further, we assessed associations between practitioners’ group work education, training, and leadership experiences, and their perceived group leader self-efficacy as measured by the Group Leader Self-Efficacy Instrument (GLSI; Page, Pietrzak, & Lewis, 2001).
A convenience sample of 24 equine-assisted mental health practitioners completed the survey. Respondents’ reported leading multiple types of therapy groups and working with a variety of client populations. The most common presenting concerns treated with equine-assisted group work were depression, anxiety, or trauma. Chi-square analysis was conducted to assess associations between EAMH practitioners’ group work education, training, and leadership experiences. Results indicated a statistically significant association (p = 0.001; V = 0.67) as participants with more education, training, and experience evidenced higher group leader self-efficacy scores than those who had less.
It appears that knowledge of group therapeutic factors can aid EAMH practitioners in facilitating group interactive processes, and EAMH practitioners could potentially benefit from more focused group work education and training opportunities.
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