Finding Your Perfect Mentor Match in the New Year

Mentorship in the New Year  

A new year brings opportunities for self-improvement, including professional growth.  Finding a mentor can be an excellent way to advance your career, improve your treatment skills set, or tackle a challenge that has been waiting for you. As a professional using hippotherapy in your practice, you may find yourself wondering, how do you locate a mentor and make a good match?

Read more to learn:

  • What is a mentor and do you need one?
  • How to identify your goals for mentorship
  • Qualities to look for in a mentor
  • How to select the right mentor match for your professional goals

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone with specific expertise that is able to guide another person to gain the knowledge, skills, or experiences in this area themselves. Mentoring is a learning relationship, generally focused on long-term career development. Mentors differ from teachers in that they help the mentee to use their own resources, skills, and knowledge to meet their goal. Because they have been down the same road or shared a similar experience, a mentor functions as a guide and will help you find your own way to get to your end goal.

So, do YOU need a mentor? There are often specific times in your career that it can be helpful to have a mentor. When these are applied to using hippotherapy as a tool, some of these times may include: 

  1. New to using hippotherapy: As a new clinician or an experienced clinician looking to incorporate hippotherapy in to a plan of care, you may want guidance on using this tool to benefit your clients.

  2. Planning on seeking AHBC certification: A study class is recommended, but a mentor can help you identify your areas of strength and areas you may want to spend more time studying before your exam.

  3. When you need a refresher: A mentor can help you whether you’re starting to integrate hippotherapy into your practice after taking a break, taking on new clients or a new population (pediatrics, geriatrics), or feeling like you are in a rut and doing the same treatment activity each week.

  4. If you are planning a business change: If you are planning on starting your own business, working with a new equine facility, getting PATH accredited, or having challenges at the facility you currently work with.

  5. You want to level up: When you decide you want to get more involved, more dedicated, more experienced, more engaged at a national level with AHA or even in your organization, a mentor can help you make that first conference presentation, join your organization's Board of Directors, or even transition to an AHA Faculty position.

Identifying your Goals

This may have gotten you thinking about what goals you might want to focus on when working with a mentor. Mentoring can focus on a broad area of improvement, such as horsemanship skills, or a very specific target, such as passing the HPCS exam by July 2021. Your goal will help guide you in selecting the right mentoring situation for you. Decide what area you would like to focus on such as clinical reasoning, horsemanship skills, business skills, or gaining support and new ideas. In mentoring, the relationship is much more driven by the mentee, and the mentee's development, growth, and goals are at the forefront. Once you feel confident about your area of focus, you can begin to seek your mentor!

Qualities to look for in a Mentor

Mentoring is relationship-based, so it is important to find someone that you get along with or admire. However, a mentor is more than a friend.  The mentor should have formal training in using hippotherapy as a treatment tool. A minimum of education, such as AHA’s Hippotherapy Treatment Principles Part 1 and Part 2 may be enough to support some mentees depending on their goals. Another indicator may be to look for a mentor that is AHBC certified, has significant experience using hippotherapy as a treatment tool, and is staying current in their knowledge and their profession. Here is a short “mentor checklist” that you can download and use as a resource for finding the right mentor.  It looks at personality, experience, professional engagement, and expertise in the area(s) you are looking to improve.

Selecting the Right Mentor Match for your Professional Goals

Selecting the right mentor is a cross between a job interview and speed dating. You have to consider both the professional qualifications of your potential mentor and see if you like the person. The mentee should consider the financial costs of the mentoring with the amount of support provided, the credentials of the mentor, and the goals to be achieved.  Most of AHA’s faculty provide formal mentoring. Other Hippotherapy Clinical Specialists may also provide mentoring as well. You can search for a local mentor, work with a mentor through email/video/Zoom or even join a mentoring group session. Horsemanship skills are cross-disciplinary or may even be supported by a local horse trainer that has a strong understanding of the discipline of hippotherapy for the horse. If you are looking for treatment techniques or activities it may be helpful to find a mentor in your discipline. 

Once you have found someone you want to work with, it is important to outline the scope of the mentorship together. Some questions may include how long you will work together, what the costs of mentorship will be, what method will you use to contact your mentor (text, email, group conference calls, Zoom meetings), and what types of activities your mentor may want to you complete. This may include videotaping treatment sessions, reading reference books, or preparing written work.  Both the mentor and mentee should have a clear understanding of the relationship to ensure that both parties are able to meet the other’s expectations and be an active participant in the process. 

Wrap-Up

In summary, seeking a mentor can be an important career move for yourself, your horses, and your clients. The support of another experienced professional through mentorship can help you use the movement of the horse more effectively, develop your ability to engage in the clinical reasoning process, improve your training and horsemanship skills, or help you move into a bigger role in the AHA community.

About the Author  

Gina is a New Jersey Licensed pediatric occupational therapist.  She has focused her career on animals helping people and nature-based therapy: providing a unique view of health and healing. She is the owner of a small therapy business, Epona Therapy Services, LLC, and a resource for those who want to pursue a career that has a nature and healing focus. She is an Adjunct Professor for OT and OTA students in pediatrics and mental health.  She is actively involved with the American Hippotherapy Association faculty and helping therapists learn more about the use of equine movement as a treatment strategy.

As a clinician, Gina has benefited greatly from both face-to-face mentoring and engagement in video mentoring. She sees great value for clinicians using hippotherapy in their practice to see mentorship throughout their career.

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