While the Canadian Forces uses teambuilding, communications training and leadership development to prepare soldiers for war, Can Praxis uses horses to help soldiers recover from it and regain their family relationships.

Can Praxis is a collaboration between Steve Critchley and Jim Marland. Critchley is a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Forces and an international mediator, facilitator, negotiator, and trainer. Marland is a registered psychologist, Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator, mountaineer, sailor, corporate trainer and a professional speaker.

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As unresolved conflict destroys relationships, and is especially common in overly stressed families, Can Praxis trains participants to manage their conflict effectively. The theoretical foundation for this is Managing Differences by Dan Dana PhD. Richard F. Celeste, former Governor of Ohio, described the book as “A practical guide for dealing with conflict. Dr. Dana moves from scholarly content to common sense with uncommon ease.”

Can Praxis uses walk-along exercises with horses as a training aid. As a ‘flight’ animal they react to human body language. Horses react to what they see; it is their body language that speaks volumes about humans in their proximity. As EAL facilitators, we offer a translation the horses’ behavior to participants in order to increase their own self-awareness.

Our Researcher for this program:
Dr. C. Randy Duncan has a background in educational psychology and works in the areas of applied measurement and program evaluation. Primary research interests are in instrument construction and validation for measuring the benefits of both equine assisted learning for at-risk populations and cultural interventions in the treatment of substance abuse. The various program evaluations undertaken have been mostly community-based participatory projects aimed at fostering partnerships and translating the information into action. Current evaluation work, funded by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, is focussed on utilizing standardized measures for reporting global outcomes for the provinces’ Child and Youth Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Our Therapeutic Approach

Most, if not all, participants are or have been under the care of a psychiatrist and/or other mental health professionals. Can Praxis uses Meaning Centred Counselling (MCC), an approach that is recognized by the counselling profession as profound and effective. MCC is an evolutionary development from the widely acclaimed Logotherapy, first articulated by Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of the groundbreaking work Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Paul Wong, the renowned psychologist and contributing author to The Human Quest for Meaning: A Handbook of Psychological Research and Clinical Applications, subsequently added some elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Frankl’s original format. MCC asks:

“Does life have real meaning? Is it worth living? How can one make sense of suffering, illness, and death? Through the ages, philosophers, clergy, and laypeople alike have grappled with such existential concerns. Some have taken the position that deep questions about meaning are unanswerable, that ideally one should take life as it comes.

Recent studies have shown, however, that the way in which individuals address existential concerns has profound implications for their mental and physical well-being. The mediating role of personal meaning in coping with stress has also received increasing attention…. No matter how hopeless the situation and how devastating the pain, we are more likely to survive if we cling to the belief that life has some purpose.”

The International Network of Personal Meaning (www.meaning.ca) adds that,

“According to Wong’s meaning-centered approach, a comprehensive resilience program contains at least the following ten lessons:
1) Purposes & life goals;
2) Understanding the self and one’s place in the world;
3) Freedom & responsibility in the face of many options but a finite life;
4) The right & wrong pathways to happiness;
5) Courage to accept internal and external constraints;
6) Faith & belief in a better future;
7) Commitment to growth;
8) Discovering the hidden dimensions of self and new frontiers of life;
9) The power of self-transcendence, empathy, compassion, & altruism;
10) Positive thinking, attribution and meaning-management.”

Co-founder and Can Praxis psychologist Jim Marland studied MCC under Dr. Wong, and made it the subject of his graduate level dissertation. He has practiced MCC with a variety of clients: elite executives, families, those with very limited personal resources, and prison inmates. Participants are welcome to talk about their trauma if they wish, but the therapy does notinclude questions about traumatic events. Our starting point is often as simple as, “Where are your boots now?”

In essence, MCC is a conversation. A conversation that, in the case of Can Praxis, lasts up to nine days. Through a process of respectful and thoughtful inquiry (an empathic version of Socratic dialogue), participants are invited to understand their challenges, their suffering, their options, and their hope for the future in a deeper, more comprehensive manner. This deeper understanding opens the possibility of new and unique solutions that were previously beyond reach.

MCC is an ideal adjunct to the therapies used by other professionals treating veterans and their spouses or family members. For example, it establishes a greater context for the ever-present threat of crisis and conflict within a family. So, regardless of where the topic of conversation goes, the improvement interpersonal communication between the spouses is the central theme and the main goal.