I walk by her brick-red office often and I’ve often wondered about the ‘Alternative Therapies’ advertised on the sign outside. Lately there’s been a signboard or menu of types of services offered within, ranging from hypnosis to aroma therapy, except down near the bottom of small white hand-painted sign was a type of therapy I’d never heard of: ‘equinoterapia’ or horse therapy?
Guatemala is fast becoming a destination for medical so-called ‘tourism’ and as Lori Shea of Guatemala Medical Travel pointed out recently, specific travel for medical treatments is on the rise. Given the high level of professionals here and the lower cost of treatment, plus the plethora of problems with the US medical system, this isn’t surprising. But ‘horse therapy?’
Intrigued and armed with two 40 year old degrees in Psychology long unused, I made an appointment for an interview. I was a few minutes early and she was a few minutes late: very prompt by Guatemalan standards but she is a thorough professional, as evidenced by the many degrees and diplomas on the walls of her small but comfortable office. The space was graced by three soothing and hand-painted murals and the bookshelf was full of well-thumbed textbooks, ranging from B.F. Skinner, Leo Buscaglia to Maslow and Freud. The large blue book known as the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) sat near the bottom. There was a well-used black leather couch with a matching easy chair, for interviews and counseling sessions in the traditional fashion.
Maria Eugenia Diaz is a striking and vivacious auburn-haired lady in her early forties, who takes her profession seriously and judging from the advertisements of the other three therapists in Antigua, she has a lot more arrows in her therapeutic quiver. Guatemala and Antigua specifically doesn’t offer many trained professionals in the mental health field. It may well be that the indigenous go to their shamans, the majority of the Guatemalan public seek pastoral counseling at their church and all that it costs may be a chicken or a few coins in the collection box and a Rosary or two. Per Mrs. Diaz, it is only the higher educated and more affluent that are willing to seek professional help, plus the occasional tourist such as those from Germany, Holland and England that she’s seen in her office. The Government of Guatemala ranks mental health as second from the bottom of their list of twenty health priorities.
We spoke of training and her specialties: trauma treatment ranked #1. Antigua, being an international tourist attraction, has its fair share of assaults, robberies and other unwelcome events in the night. She speaks English well and is Board-certified, trained for this malaise and uses a variety of treatments, depending on the client. She mentioned specializing in EMDR: I thought she meant Neuro-Linguistic Programming. No, not even close: that refers to Eye Movement DeSensitization Reprocessing, a new therapy that’s very good for PTSD disorders.
She saved the best for last: ‘equino terapia’ or horse therapy doesn’t treat horses: she treats children with often severe mental or cognitive disorders, such as autism, Attention Deficit Disorder and Down’s Syndrome. The other problems and her list numbers over thirteen, respond to this modality and the wall in her diminutive reception area has many newspaper articles proclaiming her success.
To quote Franklin Levinson, founder of EFL (Equine Facilitated Learning), ‘its’ been clinically proven that just being in the vicinity of a horse changes our brainwave patterns’. Ronald Reagan also once said that ‘the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.’ I may go for a ride later today and meet ‘Balin, the Magic Horse.’ It can’t hurt.
If you’re curious about Equine Therapy, go to www.equinoterapiaenguatemala.com