Certification in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy & Learning (EFPL) – What is it?

The growing interest in Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Equine-Facilitated Learning means increased demand for EFPL facilitator training programs. Programs vary as far as their focus and methodology, making it a very individual choice as to which programs fit a student’s current stage of learning and specific goals for the work. Which training program is the best fit depends on the type of work you want to specialize in. Selecting a training program is an investment in your future, as EFP and EFL are complex interventions that require a tremendous depth of knowledge about people and horses.


A number of training programs, including HEAL and others, award Certificates of Graduation. Such certifications signify the satisfactory completion of specific requirements for that program. Program duration and completion requirements vary from program to program. Such certification should not be misconstrued as meeting some objective standard for the field of EFPL nor should it be confused with a requirement by any jurisdiction. Each program has its own standards which can be investigated on their own merits.


To date, there is no independent certification that is required by any public jurisdiction, in order to practice EFP or EFL. However, individuals who offer mental health therapy or psychotherapy (with or without equines) must be properly credentialed and legally qualified to practice in their state or other jurisdiction. Only properly credentialed therapists can call their services Equine-Facilitated (or Assisted) Psychotherapy. There is more about licensing requirements for therapists in the section titled “Roles in EFPL” below.


The Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (www.cbeip.org) is the only independent board certifying EFPL practitioners, which they do through “competency- based” testing. This is a relatively new development in that the CBEIP was only started in 2008. The CBEIP is independent in that the board is not part of any other certifying organization (i.e. they do not market EFPL trainings themselves). The computerized tests are designed for either therapists in mental health (MH) or education professionals (ED). Both categories have significant prerequisites in order to register for the examination. This Board does not certify horse specialists or riding instructors – they only certify the mental health providers and educators conducting EFPL (see the section below titled “Roles in EFPL”).


The vision of CBEIP is to promote professional credibility and achieve public confidence by offering a credentialing process for equine interaction professionals. However, it should be noted that there has been debate over the validity of the CBEIP’s standards for “competency” in EFP or EFL. In a field that has little solid research to guide the formation of evidence-based “best practices”, with a variety of approaches to help clients with diverse issues, defining competency and establishing best practices continues to be debated and defined.  CBEIP is at the forefront of that effort.


Although obtaining certification in EFPL may not be required in order to hang out a shingle, most responsible practitioners believe in continually upgrading their skills, networking and learning from other practitioners, and involving themselves in the advocacy and growth that memberships in various EFPL organizations provide. No amount of training necessarily “makes” a good practitioner, but responsible, dynamic health care providers and teachers tend to keep up with the exciting developments in their field. EFPL practitioners should evidence the type of training and education that insures ethical treatment of clients, safe and responsible horsemanship, and insight into the issues that EFPL might address for specific groups or clients.


Professional Roles and Scope of Practice in EFPL

Therapists guide therapeutic experiences according to a treatment plan which is tailored to a specific client type and targeted to remedy presenting problems. Psychotherapy is a protected term which can only be used by individuals who have the training and license to practice in their state. Licensed mental health therapists may be Social Workers, Psychologists, Counselors, and Marriage & Family Therapists. Licensed therapists are mental health care providers, trained in the assessment and treatment of mental disorders as described in the DSM-IV; and obligated to maintain current competence in the mental health field.

Educators come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have formal certification such as an advanced degree and a teaching certificate. Educators design and guide learning for individuals or groups, based on principles that have proven relevant to the particular group being served. For instance, some educators provide programs for youth-at-risk; others might be providing services to corporate clients for team building; some might educate people in alternative health practices.

Horse specialists support the therapist or educator in implementation of the programs and exercises. Horse specialists in EFPL handle and care for horses, interpret the horse’s behavior, and hold primary responsibility for the safety and suitability of the equines employed and the equine environment. Horse specialists should have many years of in-depth horse experience working with many different horses; and should evidence an extensive knowledge of and comfort with horses even in unusual circumstances.

Riding instructors have experience and credentials in equestrian teaching and instruction, can demonstrate competency and sophistication in working with both horses and riders of varying body type, temperament and background. Riding instructors may also be providing EFL, in this case used to enhance a person’s level of horsemanship. Each role requires different training, and for each role the skills needed require an investment of time, effort and training.


Each role has varying demands in terms of training, preparation and opportunities for credentialing with various organizations. Some people are trained and certified for dual roles; some practitioners work as a team so that there is a balance and good coverage to the roles (i.e. a therapist teaming with a horse specialist). For some models (EAGALA) and some interventions (group events) a practitioner team is clearly needed and that team should evidence a balance of clinical skills and horse skills.