Equine facilitated Counseling
EFC & Play Therapy
Horses are highly intelligent herd and prey animals who make natural therapeutic partners. As prey animals, horses are highly attuned to their environment and respond directly to the nonverbal messages being communicated. Horses are inherently authentic and aware of the emotion and intent of those around them. This strong emotional sense allows the horse to act as a live bio-feedback mirror to the feelings of those around them. This makes them powerful partners in counseling. As herd animals, horses depend on others as well as trusting relationships to survive. This relationship creates powerful parallels with human relationships. Once a trusted bond is established with the horse, a very powerful transformation takes place leading clients towards increased self-awareness, self-regulation, empowerment and more.
Who will I be working with?
Clients will work with a licensed mental health professional, a certified equine specialist, and a therapy horse/herd to accomplish counseling goals. The mental health professional’s primary role is to focus on client treatment while the equine specialist’s primary role is to ensure safety and help interpret the horse’s behavior. The client will be matched with the treatment team that most aligns with the client’s area of need.
What does a session look like?
The first session is an intake session where we review your history, goals for counseling, intake paperwork and your role in treatment. No prior horse experience is necessary. There is no riding during counseling; all session are unmounted. During the next several sessions, you will be introduced to the horses that are available for counseling and encouraged to interact with the horses in a way that both you and the horses feel comfortable. Sessions may be held in the barn, pasture, arena or round pen. Each session evolves at the client’s own pace and is tailored to each individual.
Based on the goals established, your treatment team will guide your relationship with the horse and develop activities in support of the treatment plan. Sessions may include mindfulness, emotional regulation, herd-based therapy, and body sensation awareness. We allow the horse and the client to guide what the session will look like, while also encouraging clients to slow down and learn to be present with the horses.
Preparation and Expectation
Sessions are held rain or shine; they are only canceled if Dallas ISD closes for inclement weather. Please dress for the weather in clothes that you do not mind if they get dirty. Closed toe/heel shoes are required; boots are preferred. Three late cancels or no shows may lead to termination of services.
Is counseling with horses the right fit for me?
Equest focuses on client strengths and the power of the human-horse connection to facilitate the healing process. Through counseling with horses, clients and their families can increase self-awareness and learn how their interactions affect others. Coupling the power of the horse with the power of therapy allows for rapid movement in reaching therapeutic goals.
Research has shown an array of potential benefits including enhanced:
Our priority is the safety of you and our horses. We want to ensure our clients are receiving the level of care they need to be successful. Assisting with your safety, PATH Intl. has determined counseling with horses should not be used for clients who are:
Actively dangerous to self or others (suicidal, homicidal, aggressive)
Actively delirious, demented, dissociative, psychotic, severely confused
Medically unstable (including active/serious eating disorders)
Actively abusing substances
Leslie West & PTSD on WFAA
EFC Testimonial - Angela
EFC & Veterans
EFC Testimonial - Joe
All mental health professionals are licensed through the State of Texas and each specializes in a different area.
Karen Dumas, MS, LPC-S, RPT-S
Equest Program Counselor
Specialties: Children, Parents, Attachment, Child-Parent Relationship, Trauma
Starting out I had a love for horses. My grandparents had a retired barrel racing horse that was able to live out the rest of his life grazing in the pasture. At a very young age, I recall my grandmother telling me to take out this smelly bucket full of watermelon rinds and other discarded veggies to feed Sam the horse. And apparently, according to my baby book, my first sentence was "Sam's eating". Sam was not the kind of horse that naturally made you feel safe and secure; he did his own thing and when he was done riding he would head straight back to the barn with or without you. Despite his stubbornness, I had a very unique and loving relationship with Sam. My grandfather and I even had dreams that Sam could talk.
As a therapist, having worked with children and families for 20 years, I see the incredible benefits from partnering with horses. Even though they can't talk like Sam 😄 horses mirror back to us emotions that we might not yet even be aware of. It is this innate ability that makes partnering with horses so powerful - they help people learn more about themselves, increase self-confidence, and learn to build and maintain interpersonal relationships. I believe that we each have it within ourselves to bring about change in our lives, to tweak the actions and behaviors that aren’t working for us, and learn new techniques and strategies to be our best selves. I'm excited to combine my experience of working with children and families with my love for horses.
I received my Bachelor’s in Child Development and Master’s in Counseling from the University of North Texas. My specialty is using play therapy as a means to work with children that are not cognitively or developmentally able to process their life experiences just yet through "talk therapy". I have experience with children, adolescents and families who have survived trauma, including victims of violent crimes, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and interpersonal and relationship trauma. I have also counseled families as they deal with a medical diagnosis and navigating the hospital experiences for children. For the last 11 years, I provided services to children with emotional and behavioral struggles at Momentous Institute. Today, I spend my time working at my private practice and Equest, while I raise two really amazing mutts.
Equest Counseling Program Manager
Courtney Utter, M.Ed., LPC-Associate, ESMHL, LCDC-I
Supervised by Christina McDonald, M.S., LPC-S
Specialties: Adolescents, Adults, Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Eating Disorders, Mindfulness
My love for horses sparked when I was eight years old. I have been riding and competing in English Hunter Jumper and developing my horsemanship skills ever since. I have experience conducting both small and large animal therapies.
I take a holistic approach to counseling and have a true passion for people, horses, healing, and helping. My education, clinical experience, and equine background all come together to teach and connect client's experiences with the horse in a theoretical therapeutic approach.
My personal core beliefs are rooted in love, positivity, open-mindedness, and genuine compassion. I believe we are in charge of the energy we give and the energy in which we receive. I am genuine in my approach and know not everyone fits into one box or category. Every activity/intervention is intentional and tailored for each individual. Just as each individual is different, so is each horse.
Humans and horses are born with an innate desire to connect. Partnering with a horse is powerful and takes mutual trust. It heightens self-awareness, allows the individual to overcome fears, develop trust, self-regulate feelings, and so much more. Since horses are so direct, their responses are immediate and honest, providing excellent feedback. In equine therapy, you cannot force anything to happen. This has not been easy to learn, but making a fifteen-hundred pound animal do something you want just will not work. It is all about establishing a connected relationship and building that trust before a partnership is created. I have witnessed how this partnership has changed many lives.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern under the supervision of Christina McDonald, M.S., LPC-S. I obtained my Masters of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Texas Christian University (go frogs!). I am also a PATH Intl. Certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. I know the power of healing found through partnering with horses and look forward to sharing this discovery with others.
Become a Counseling Client
To become an Equest counseling client, please contact Courtney Utter at email@example.com.
Initial New Client Appointment/Evaluation: $120
50 Minute Individual Session: $120
Active duty service personnel, members of the Guard or Reserve, or any veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their immediate family members: NO COST