For over 25 years, therapist Beth Anstandig has worked to empower people with the tools to improve leadership, corporate culture, and wellness programs. What is unique about her approach is that she uses her relationship with animals, such as horses, to inform her work.
Anstandig’s new book The human herd gives a framework for tapping into what she calls our human animal to learn how to better respond to the increasing pressures we face and develop better relationships. She recently came to Milwaukee to work with staff at Rogers Behavioral Health, led by Rogers CO of John Boyd Hospitals.
Anstandig and Boyd met lake effect Audrey Nowakowski in Mequon, Wisconsin at Hidden View Farm Stables to talk about this work.
Anstandig begins by explaining his concept of natural leadership and how his book grew out of it. “We have a crisis of self-care and we also have a crisis of leaning into needing each other as humans. For me, animals were a bridge to myself and my own. wellness and they helped me connect with that innate part of me, that wise animal part of me, that’s my natural leadership, they created a bridge for me to start trusting humans again, because I really didn’t.
As talking, thinking mammals, humans are very disconnected from the instinctive part of themselves and from bodily sensations and signals, Anstandig says, and she points out that humans can learn a lot from horses. The horses are 100% honest with their needs at all times, so they always take care of what they need and report to each other as a group.
“It’s not that I want to ignore the language or the intellect, … I like the thought, the partnership. … The problem is that this brain problem that takes over the signaling system, it numbs us”, explains Anstandig. “So we actually want to be around other humans, mammals that are going to awaken that part of us so that we can integrate it into that intellectual part of us.”
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Therapist Beth Anstandig says humans can learn a lot from horses, which are always honest with their needs and signal those needs to each other as a herd.
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WUWM’s Audrey Nowakowski with Buttercup at Hidden View Farms in Mequon, Wisconsin.
By recognizing and responding to our pressing needs in more natural ways, she believes we will be more authentic, not just with ourselves, but with others in personal and professional contexts.
Boyd says he’s trying to incorporate Anstandig’s concept of natural leadership at Rogers Behavioral Health to create a better model for healthcare employees to feel seen and supported in their needs.
He says it’s clear the world is in a moment of mental wellness, and people in the health care field, including those looking specifically at mental health and addictions support, are not away from this same need. Part of Boyd’s awakening was to learn that a doctor he worked with in a former health care system had died by suicide.
“His suicide was felt across the organization, across the leadership team, among all of us caregivers. I knew then that we had to find something better to support, understand and acknowledge. the lives of those who work alongside us to do this life-saving work,” he says.
From Boyd’s perspective, the healthcare industry needs a role model to show its employees that they are serious about mental health. Like many employers, he notes that Rodgers has increased access to mental health support, both onsite and virtual.
Yet he emphasizes that leaders of industries and organizations need to ensure that their daily work practices do not cause psychological harm.
“It means changing the way we work. It means striking a balance between the workplace and health in terms of the number of hours people are allowed to work. It means telling its own story about the impact of the sanity on you in leadership, so you’re modeling yourself for others that it’s safe to talk about the tough stuff,” Boyd says.
Both Anstandig and Boyd are confident in their approach to bringing this concept into new environments. “An opponent is a very important member of a herd and it’s a protective, inquisitive, and survival-based instinct,” Anstandig explains.
She leans over it. “I really trust that process and also know when not to put pressure on that relationship. I learned everything from my animals,” she says. “I think every time we try to sell someone something, we’ve gotten a head start on them and where they are in their process, and I really believe in walking alongside and then expect there to be a natural openness in the romantic relationship.”