by Benjamin Fry
I arrived at this workshop sick of therapy. I run a mental health service, work with therapists, deliver therapy and have a therapist! Sometimes I have disagreements with all of them, including myself, and so I got to Arizona in a state of slight burn-out, wondering why I had taken leisure time to be around yet more therapy. I was, in short, somewhat disagreeable.
The first day I parked myself somewhat sulkily under the tree by the campfire and found myself relaxing into some uncharacteristic lapses of highly negative thinking. The space that I had, with no phone, no work, no family, was allowing some stresses to surface. A recent conflict which I had had in my own therapy was playing on my mind and slowly I started to notice the effect this was having on me in the here and now. Fortunately I was able to observe myself a little and to have some dual awareness of my condition. I was watching Colleen Derango working, possibly the person I trust the most with my own health, and I was grumpy. I was second guessing what we were doing there, if I would get enough time, if I would get what I needed. And then I just noticed this. I thought to myself, “if I am being negative about Colleen, then there is obviously something really upsetting me” and I realised that before anything productive would happen I would need to talk to her about this.
So we started our first session with the horse with me able to tell her exactly how I was feeling about her and what we were doing. This has been one of the great benefits for me from my treatment. When I feel safe with someone I can talk about something which might be difficult. Colleen herself actually taught me how to do this. I just make sure that I am talking about myself, how I am feeling and what I am thinking, and don’t make it about the other person. I was able to own my negativity and in doing so, look for the source of this. I found myself moving quickly on to telling her about some troubles I had had with my own therapist which clearly were not resolved. Just being listened to about this allowed me to reoriente myself to ‘therapy’ in general and I was able to begin to engage property with the workshop. I stopped being so distant and aloof and started to join in.
My first somatic equine therapy session with the horse was baffling. I’d been on a horse once in 30 years and didn’t really like them. I was scared. In this training in horsemanship, we didn’t get on a horse. We worked with them in a ’round pen’. Buddy, the horseman, told me to get the horse moving just by intending him to with my body! How bonkers is that? I was flummoxed. This was the beginning of the horse part of the journey ‘into the self’. In order to get the horse to know what I wanted, I had to try to fully inhabit my own body and then connect with, or resonate with, the horse, so that our bodies became driven together by my own somatic intentions. I was rubbish at it on day one.
On day two, I was starting to unravel a bit. The stresses of life before horse were beginning to catch up on me and in a session that morning, we did some somatic work, rather than horsemanship. This was the marvel of that week.With the therapist and the cowboy, we could switch seamlessly between horsemanship and therapy, as the body wanted to go. I needed to process something. We never even got the horse out of her stall. I started to resonate with the horse and, weirdly, we both started to twitch in the shoulder, and then start pawing with the same leg! As she did so, I felt myself let go of some part of me that had be standing a vigilant sentry and I started to cry. I felt a deep sense of loneliness, a kind of existential loneliness, and was awash with true sadness. Perhaps the consequences of my divorce were catching up on me, or maybe something deeper, a resonance of my first time in the desert with Colleen, when I was so alone in treatment, echoing the desperate aloneness of my infant life. In any case, the wonder of working with the horse is that the reason, the memory, the process, none of it matters. I really didn’t need to go there. My body did the work, with the horse and my metabolizing container, and I was left with something much simpler than my history. Around the campfire, I was asked what came up for me now, as my body rested. And it was simple; “I’m ok”.
I started my life in mental health as a highfalutin psycho-dynamic psychotherapist, excited about the complexity of interpreting the unconscious. I feel that it is a graduation to come to the point of just letting an unknown horse work with my body, and then my mind having nothing in it but two two-letter words. That’s progress for me. My hugely developed conscious mind giving way to a simpler, more ancient wisdom; the intuitive work of the body and the soul. More and more I’m “ok” on ever deeper levels. And it was a joy to be connected to that felt sense, that core truth, while working far outside my comfort zone, far from everything I knew.
The week just got better and better. I found myself on the last day 180 degrees away from my chuntering ingrate of the first morning. I consider that week to have been a true blessing for which I will always be grateful, worth every penny and pioneered by a pair of genuine visionaries, masters of their crafts. I thoroughly recommend it.
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