Catharina Carlsson1, Daniel Nilsson Ranta2, & Bente Traeen3
1Department of Social Work, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden
2Department of Social Work, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden
3Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway
The purpose of this study was to explore, by qualitative methods, the meaning of equine-assisted social work (EASW) both to young women with self-harm problems and their staff in residential treatment. Data were collected by in-depth interviews with eight staff members and nine clients. Human-horse interaction was observed subsequently in three of the staff and four of the clients. Based on the narratives of the staff members and the clients, who agreed, the horse’s ability to read human emotions made the staff and clients aware of their own emotions. In order not to alienate the horse or make the situation dangerous, which intensified their sense of being in the present, both the clients and staff had to regulate their emotions. As a result the resistance for change decreased, made the participants more likely to regulate their emotions and change behavior rather than avoid the situation or the information. The horse seemed to set the framework for the interaction between the staff and young women. The fact that even the staff could fail in the interaction with the horse, affected the interaction between staff and clients making it more informal and dynamic. A relationship based on empathy, trust, respect and negotiation, where clients shared private matters, resulted in the perception of a more authentic relationship. Further research is needed to see which conditions are favourable for achieving an authentic relationship and which conditions possibly fail.