Behavior | Kay Trotter

By Appointment : Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm & Saturday 8am to Noon
  Contact : (214) 499-0396

All Posts Tagged: Behavior

Equine Assisted Social Emotional Learning, EASEL®

Guest Author Mari Louhi-Lehtiö M.Sc., Ed lives in Finland and is currently studying to become a solution-focused family therapist.

What is – EASEL®

Equine Assisted Social Emotional Learning, EASEL is a methodology designed to strengthen self-awareness, emotion regulation and self-management, social awareness and empathy, social skills and responsible decision making, and happiness caused by aesthetic and powerful experiences of connection with nature and other living things. The structured approach and general process, facilitation principles, and the experiential tools and exercises with horses are grounded in evidence-based theoretical frameworks and social neurosciences. The general process description can be tailored for different client population and each facilitator’s own theoretical framework.

In EASEL, the client-horse-therapist triangle and experiential activities provide opportunities for transforming maladaptive emotions, thought patterns and behavior into new, more adaptive ones. The goal is, however, to get the supporting/therapeutic elements to people’s daily lives, and the focus is soon moved to strengthening the relationships that really matter to the client(s), like with own family and friends. An EASEL process is ideally a solution-focused brief-therapy, 7 to 20 sessions, and conducted in a group format or with the whole family with the facilitators as process consultants. The goal is to support and coach individuals and families to strengthen self and their own “herd”.

Why EASEL Works

Social Emotional Skills refer to our ability to manage own emotions and what happens when we connect with others. Our brain has social circuits that navigate us through every encounter. Social rejection hits our survival instinct because it means that we cannot count on the other one to care and watch our back. Research has shown that even a mild rejection lights up in humans the same brain areas as physical pain.

Staying Present and Engaged

Listening well has been found to distinguish the best parents, leaders, teachers and therapists. horses  and play! Play is the platform of all mammals for learning social codes. If we fail to stay engaged, the horse generally just walks away. If we manage to stay present and connected, we get powerful opportunities to investigate self in relation to others, to heal, and to strengthen own social emotional skills.

The Un-escapable Role of Emotions

Emotions are a chemical cocktail in our body intended to make us do something. Any high emotional peak causes the brain to not take in any new information or it is taken so that it reinforces the emotion. Ideally in growing up we develop healthy attachments, basic trust in life and people, and effective social emotional skills, if we are secure and trusting, we have a positive self-image and can tolerate own vulnerability in an age appropriate way. But if our life experiences don’t support such development, we find ourselves in distress and in relationships that don’t seem to fulfill our needs. We become stuck in thought patterns and negative interaction cycles until the underlying need for secure attachments is addressed.


The personal process of change and growth can be described with Richard Boyatzis’ model of self-directed learning. My ideal self – Who do I want to be? My current self – What are my strengths and what do I want to change? How can I build on my strengths and reduce gaps? EASEL offers opportunities to investigate, experiment and practice in a novel but safe and empathetically attuned environment, away from the challenges and roles in own daily life. Supportive and trusting relationships make change possible. This is the role of the EASEL® facilitators and horses but also the whole group or family.

Transforming maladaptive emotions and thought patterns

EASEL aims at creating new relationship events to act as a kind of transformer and thereby help change dysfunctional behaviors and emotions with positive ones for connectivity, care and attachment. With the guidance of the facilitator, the client can modulate the level of challenge in the activities, thereby regulating the intensity of his or her own experience and emotions so that they can be recognized but also handled and processed with the psycho-educative tools and the facilitator’s guidance.

Social Skills and Empathy

It is generally thought in all therapy and education models that the most effective learning and growth happens when people find their own solutions through experiential learning and active processing. The activities with EASEL horses place people in a state of active problem-solving. The activities are designed to produce a natural process that can be investigated, but as in life and relationships in general, the activities are open and shaped by the horse and the client in that moment. The learning arising from this is profound and revealing.

All steps of the program have several alternative open-ended activities to choose from and clients may stay on one step for several sessions. This repetition makes it possible to reinforce something while processing what is happening in the moment.  Like in life in general, we never know what is going to happen. The challenge is to discover ways to communicate, connect and develop an adequate level of mutual trust, respect and care to match own needs and the demands of the task at hand. Making friends with a horse can be a powerful way to heal, grow and learn to strengthen own human herd!

For more information

Mari Louhi-Lehtio will be speaking at this years NARAH conference in Denver

Mari Louhi-Lehtio will also be conducting a  EASEL workshop November 7th-9th (directly following the NARHA conference in Denver)
In conjunction with Rocky Mountain Equi-Rhythm at Joder Ranch,
Boulder, CO (40 minutes from Denver)

For more information contact: Mica Graves 303-478-0768,,

Read More

Bloom where you’re planted

Guest Author – Jonna Rae Bartge is a creative catalyst, published author, intuitive and professional spiritual adviser.

Spring has finally snuggled up to the Western North Carolina mountains after one of the angriest winters the entire nation has endured in decades.

When the snows at last disappeared into the warming ground, we could all see the devastation heavy ice and strong winds brought to the trees and shrubs. In the swath of woods surrounding my little hilltop home, countless branches lay around the base of pines, oaks and sycamores. Other limbs were only partially ripped from the trees, and remained connected by strands of bare wood.

In the past few weeks, though, magic came to these battered and bruised forests. I was walking my black lab Bear along one little wooded path when I saw the first one — a dogwood branch lay on the ground, just barely still attached to the trunk of the tree. But from that partially severed limb burst a virtual bouquet of blooms, defying all logic. I looked around, and there was another downed branch, with a perilously fragile connection to the tree, resplendent in spectacular flowers. It was a humbling, inspiring discovery that seemed to immediately apply not only to the trees who refused to give up, but to all of us, too.

We’re all being challenged right now on many different dimensions. We’re all finding ourselves in situations and circumstances we did not consciously choose, and it’s easy to feel threatened, abandoned, or cut-off. But no matter how tough we’ve had it, or how severe the storm was that we just weathered, we still have a choice. We can give up, or we can latch on to that connection we still have to a higher state of consciousness, and we can bloom.

There’s an old proverb, “Bloom where you’re planted.” I challenge all of us to “Bloom when you’re broken.” Deciding to still bloom, no matter what the damage, is the first step to real healing.

Let the healing begin!

“Jonna Rae is co-author of Kenny’s Journals: The True Story of a Love-Driven Life, available on Her autobiography, Psychic or Psychotic? Memoirs of a Happy Medium is coming out this spring.

Jonna Rae Bartges  • Bartges Communication •           ‘Happy Medium’ Jonna Rae •

Read More

Defusing Family Conflicts Before they Erupt

Recently I was interviewed by Dallas Ft. Worth North Texas Child magazine as their mental health expert for a special issue they are working on. Specifically, they wanted to know more about family conflict and sibling rivalry.

Here is my interview:

Question: ”My kids squabble over everything. How do I help moderate these family feuds so they’re learning to get along, not just with each other, but with everyone?”

Answer: Last week I had the pleasure of eating lunch with my daughter, a third grade teacher in a North Texas school district.  Because this was one of those rare dismal, cold and rainy days, the students couldn’t go outside for mid-day recess.  Instead many used the free time as a study hall.  As my daughter and I talked, occasionally a student would approach and ask Kelly a question about their work.

I felt a combination of motherly and professional pride as I watched her deftly guide the youngsters to discovering their own answers, helping them realize where they’d gone wrong along the way.  One little girl in particular was making the common mistake of misinterpreting the questions, and I was instantaneously brought back to when I would frequently make this same mistake as this child.

When lunch was over the whole class came back from recess and continued their school day. I hung around for a little while and what I saw and heard were 20+ students clamoring for attention, seeking answers to questions and desiring guidance. This quest for feedback was combined with them wanting to get their basic needs meet, such as going to the bathroom, checking insulin levels, etc.   Before I knew it, I had such a big impish smile on my face that Kelly asked, “What are you thinking?!”

“It’s amazing to see and hear how the 8 year-old brain works,” I answered.  “I’m reminded in a very concrete manner that these children do not process information anything like we adults do.”

Far too often, adults forget or just do not realize that their children are not “little grownups.” Their brains are not neurologically capable of processing information like our adult brains do. Children’s brains are still building new connections, changing, growing and moving towards a cognitive maturity they won’t reach for a number of years.

For example, the 8 year-old brain is in the process of developing logical and concrete thinking, but still has a very limited ability to extend logic to abstract concepts.  This shows up in the highly imaginative and illogical thinking of early childhood.

The cerebral cortex is the largest part of the brain, and is where the gray matter responsible for the “higher” functions of thinking and information processing resides.  This area, when fully developed at age 24 for women and 27 for men, and enables us to grasp abstract concepts.

That means the 8 year old boys in my daughters 3rd grand class are 19 years away from being able to completely understand the concepts their parents are trying to communicate.

As a parent this means you need to continually realize your children will process information differently than you do.  It’s not stubbornness or defiance – that blank look they give you may mean your child is simply unable to mentally grasp what you’re telling them.  I tell parents it’s like speaking in a different language — your child can physically hear your words, but they honestly do not comprehend you.

I’ve found positive family communication increases dramatically when parents learn to speak their child’s language.  When parents can “see the world through their child’s eyes,” they are better able to understand their youngsters, and effectively guide them.

After I shared this concept of “seeing the world through your child’s eyes” with one mother, she admitted that she thought her son was just being stubborn and wanting his way.  She attributed his yelling and screaming as a calculated means to achieve his goal, and his dramatic acting-out was making the whole family angry and miserable.

When the mother switched tactics and worked at seeing the world as he experienced it, she became awestruck at what she discovered.  She now realized that her son was not a bratty screaming child – but a very scared child.   Her heart ached when she saw her son was so fearful that all he knew how to do was scream to get her attention. Once she knew her child was simply scared, she was able to help him—and become a better parent in the process.  The boy’s behavior quickly changed for the positive.

The mother of an adolescent came to me seeking help to understand why her daughter continues to not read the social cues others give her, and constantly picks fights with her friends and family.  As I helped her “see the world through her daughter eyes,” she learned that in the developing adolescent brain the limbic system, which governs emotions and behavior, is closely linked to the still maturing prefrontal cortex.

The way this powerful connection shows up, an adult who observes a group of people looking in their direction and laughing might feel an emotional response in the limbic system, but probably won’t respond in any way because the prefrontal cortex (which acts as a sort of mental traffic cop) would say, “It’s okay.  It’s not about you.” An adolescent, on the other hand, might mistakenly make the unpleasant assumption that the people were laughing at her and become upset, angry, or defensive.

Adolescents just are not as good at interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal signals, in part because the prefrontal cortex is not yet lending the limbic system a hand.

My suggestions would be to continue to open your mind to the fact that your children aren’t intentionally trying to sabotage the family dynamic – they just need a little extra guidance in understanding and interpreting appropriate behavior.

If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group or find out more about her counseling practice, you can contact her at: Kay@KayTrotter.com214-499-0396, or visit her web site

Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page

Read More