Self-esteem, resilience and wellbeing in adolescence: the potential of horses as authentic and therapeutic partners

Graham, Pamela (2021) Self-esteem, resilience and wellbeing in adolescence: the potential of horses as authentic and therapeutic partners. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

Text (Doctoral Thesis)
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The study involved two separate groups of young people aged between 16-19, all of whom had been excluded from mainstream education and identified as ‘vulnerable’ due to perceived behavioural, social or emotional difficulties. Ten participants engaged in a relationship-building programme involving horses, that had previously had a positive impact on similar groups of young people. Over a period of three months, the participants shared their experiences of achievement and purpose through their authentic, unique interactions and relationships with horses, and effective communication with others. They gained first-hand experience of the size, difference and potential power of the horse; an ‘other’ through which each participant could re-encounter their self (Levinas, 1961).

The data reveals that these experiences elicited feelings of wonder, elation, anxiety, fear, frustration and empowerment. Through learning to recognise horses’ non-verbal clues, young people developed greater capacity to appreciate the ways in which horses communicate their emotions or intentions, and to respond sensitively. They learned how to coordinate their experiences, feelings and non-verbal language in order to form a partnership of kinaesthetic empathy, rather than a dynamic characterised only by dominance or submission. This was balanced with an awareness that they needed to be consistently attentive, or the balance of expectations and control might shift.

This mixed method ethnographic study gathered and examined data from focus groups and interviews. In addition, it employed statistics derived from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965). The data were collected at three points: before, during and after the programme. Field notes and photo elicitation (Rose, 2012) provided additional sources of information throughout the study.

Findings indicate that the transformational value of interacting with horses has social and psychological benefits. The self-reported increases in confidence, new coping strategies and personal insights that the young participants developed during the programme, along with improved self-esteem scores, suggest that such activity can channel young people’s interest and motivation into a sense of eudaimonia, meaningful and rewarding outcomes, and the development of a range of transferable skills.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Human Animal Interaction, Eudaimonic wellbeing, Multi-species wellbeing, Kinaesthetic empathy, Person-centred and relational approaches to practice with young people and horses
Subjects: B900 Others in Subjects allied to Medicine
C800 Psychology
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2022 08:22
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2022 08:30

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