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By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT & Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT

Stigma. It’s a pretty familiar word to most of us. It’s especially familiar to those of us working in the mental health field. It’s what oftentimes keeps us and our clients away from seeking help and talking about issues that trouble us most. In a recent Anchored. podcast (Episode 10|  Four Legged Healers: Exploring Animal Assisted Therapy. ), we talked with  Dr. Shelley Green about her experience with equine-assisted therapy as a way to decrease some of the stigma that can hinder not only clients, but also therapists in training.

As a Professor of Family Therapy and Director of Equine Assisted Family Therapy at Nova Southeastern University (NSU),  Shelley feels that horses offer a unique and powerful therapeutic resource; they have the ability to help clients take risks, face fears, and experience transformation in a very different environment than traditional in-office therapy. And, while horses are used for various types of therapy, including substance abuse, couples counseling, and abused children, they can also be used to promote clinical and personal growth with therapists.

Shelley has developed two graduate-level courses offered to master’s level marriage and family therapy students at NSU. These courses are designed to offer students the experiential opportunity to learn about equine-assisted work. Performance anxiety often can be overwhelming for therapists-in-training leading to inner-focus rather than tending to clients’ in-the-moment needs.  The course includes on-site training at the nonprofit site, Stable Place, which houses therapy horses and provides a lovely setting for students to become more aware of themselves through individual work with horses. Horses have been known to serve as:

“Excellent teachers of relationship, communication, and mindfulness skills…due to [their] highly sensitive nature, therapeutic work with them can increase people’s tolerance for anxiety and help reduce self-focus.” (Meola & Sias, 2016, p. 4)

Our OneOp team was eager to gain insight into the impact courses such as Shelley’s have on the comfort, awareness, and confidence of those involved. So, we invited three clinical students to discuss their experience learning about the therapeutic nature of horses and how equine-assisted therapy has shaped their clinical growth.

Caitlin Sickler

Alyssa Biestek

Cristina-Oana Cucoanes

If you would like to learn more about the equine-assisted therapy work Shelley and those affiliated with NSU’s MFT program are doing, listen to Anchored. Podcast Episode 8|  Four Legged Healers: Exploring Animal Assisted Therapy.  


Meola, C.C., & Sias, S.M. (2016). Equine-Assisted Practicum in Counselor Supervision. VISTAS Online, Article 53. Retrieved from

This post was written by members of the OneOp Team. 

Blog Image: Photo from Pixabay [Horse Shoe by aischmidt, May 15, 2015, CCO]