The Counseling Center will use equine-assisted therapy for premarital counseling for the first time next week. The hope is that it will strengthen relationships by allowing couples to interact in an alien environment.
“When couples think about getting married, it’s not a decision you should enter in lightly,” said Steve Rowlands, director of the Counseling Center. “So if there are opportunities to strengthen that relationship, you should take them, especially one like this.”
The premarital counseling session will be a free, one-time workshop for two hours Friday afternoon, starting at 1:30. The Counseling Center has used equine-assisted therapy since the beginning of this semesterÂ but never for premarital counseling. Steve Eller, university counselor and equine-assisted therapist, said this workshop is scheduled for only one session, but if couples want to have more, they are welcome.
“Couples can look into doing a session later down the road; the option to come is always there,” Eller said.
The ACU farm is contributing to this therapy by providing eight horses and its facilities for the Counseling Center to use. This will create an atmosphere completely different from the traditional leather recliner and sofa.
The session will focus on problem solving and community, but Eller said the material will stay flexible because different couples respond in different ways to the situations they face, especially those involving conflict.
“We like to promote conflict because the idea ‘if we fight then we’re done’ – that’s not reality,” Eller said.
Both Eller and Rowlands said equine-assisted therapy is a good alternative to traditional premarital counseling.
They also said horses create valuable metaphors to help couples discuss their feelings about various situations. According to the Counseling Center website, horses are much like humans in that they are social animals with their own personalities and attitudes. Horses also can be intimidating to many people. Therefore working with the animals and accomplishing diverse tasks can help someone become more confident not only with the animal but also with everyday occurrences.
Rowlands said the Counseling Center just wants people to test their relationship.
“We encourage people to take part in anything that would strengthen their relationship or at least challenge it,” Rowlands said.