Catharina Carlsson PhD in Social Work has a Bachelor of Science in Social Work and her degree of Master with Specialization in Public Health Science. Her thesis defended in March 2017 examines, through qualitative methods, the role of the horse in equine assisted social work (EASW) as well as what facilitates or constrains the role of the horse. The analysis led to the conclusion that adding a horse could qualitatively change therapeutic relationships.
The horse had a calming effect on the clients; enabled them to free themselves of their preoccupations; provided real-time, non-verbal, and non-judgmental feedback on their emotions; and increased feelings of trust, patience, and empathy. The presence of a horse provided a ‘moment of silence’ for the clients, silencing their inner critic, and made them feel more authentic and better able to regulate their emotions. However, staff could counteract this ‘safe’ healing by being too focused on goals, making interpretations, and lecturing and encouraging clients, thus making clients feel judged anyhow.
The study provide an image of the complexity of EASW and it is crucial that the horse is regarded as a subject, a transitional object, to give clients the opportunity to break free from self-stigmatisation, which seemed to lower the barrier to change, opposing impression management and surface acting, depending on high demands on staff to reach outcomes regarding communication, self-confidence, selfesteem, and self-image. The different triads consist of different liaisons, giving rise to unique combinations and the potential to avoid emotional dissonance. The quality of the relationships seems to depend on staff and clients’ attachment orientations and ability to be in contact with their emotions and needs.
The study was partly financed by funds from Childrens´s welfare foundation Sweden. Her findings show that the horse could have specific characteristics that influence relationships between humans and suggests that horses could be added to the dictionary for the discipline of social work. Her research points out that animals like horses in social work can not be seen as objects, tools or commodities for people to act on. Instead they need to be considered as subjects with own needs and emotions.