by Tom Beckett, DVM & Margaret Reeder, BS
Publish Date: 2001-05-19
Since about 1985 we have utilized the Tellington-Touch Equine Awareness Method (TTEAM) in the care and treatment of animals in a veterinary practice. TTEAM is the acronym for a system of relating to animals developed in the 1970s by Linda Tellington-Jones. First developed as a way to train horses, TTEAM has proved to be equally effective with other species. TTEAM is not training as it is traditionally practiced. In TTEAM there is rigorous emphasis on maintaining effective dialogue with the neural control centres which mediate behaviours and not simply coping with behaviours after these centres have set them in motion. Because of this we have found TTEAM useful to “retrain” a number of physiological responses in ways which promote recovery and health.
Much of the knowledge base of TTEAM is derived from the oral tradition or the science of various disciplines related to animals. It does not ignore great bodies of accumulated wisdom. It is a non-traditional approach to doing traditional things — and doing them easier and better. Tellington-Jones’ contribution is to combine knowledge from her vast experience with traditional approaches, from diverse outside sources, and from her own her considerable original creativity into a modality whose novel methods greatly expand the boundaries of “physical” (as opposed to “metaphysical”) communications within human-animal interactions.
The central premise unifying Tellington-Jones’ work is that human-animal intercommunication can be raised to levels not generally achieved. The first assumption of this premise is that the human can become a far more sensitive, informed observer of the animal’s body and movement. Thus equipped, the human can detect much more about the animal’s mental processes and physical state. The second, more novel, assumption is that specific selected touch and exercises permit the human to communicate information back to the animal in ways which profoundly affect its ability to learn and can alter its mental and physical functioning. The corpus of TTEAM training is exposition and practice of the knowledge, habits of thought and skills which enable the human to accomplish the two-way communication process.
Our experience supports the many anecdotes which indicate that communication empowered by TTEAM enables the trainer or therapist to provide stimulation which can alter the animal in diverse ways. TTEAM enables us to forestall instinctual or learned responses which lead the animal to squander resources in maladaptive ways. It helps us redirect and re-educate mind body processes toward behaviour or functions suited to the here-and-now challenges it faces. This fine tuning of function and the accompanying mental contentment yields an animal which learns, copes, performs and heals better.
Linda demonstrates the TTouch on a miniature horse. Marnie and Dr. Beckett are to the right of Linda.
TTEAM employs touch and exercises designed with the specific goal of making the animal aware of responses and actions which are faulty. To explain why this is valuable requires a simplified “black box” review of mind-body learning. The reactions which an animal habitually produces in response to various agents (environmental events, bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions) are largely automatic. They are automatic in the sense that they are produced by sensory-control effecter connections operating in the nervous system below the level of awareness. It is as though the animal has “programmed” in a certain response and forgotten about it. To change the response it must change its “program”; to change the “program” it must be aware of the response it habitually uses. Without awareness the programming” will continue to produce the old response. With awareness the higher neural control centres can intervene and “reprogram” to produce a different response. In a calm aware state the animal tends to choose responses which are more appropriate, more efficient, more healthful.
The human who seeks to produce change in animals must honour the learning sequence:
1) create a calm attentive mental state;
2) make the animal aware of the present, undesired response;
3) if necessary, present other options with clarity and
4) reinforce the natural tendency to select the healthy option.
Moshe Feldenkrais, working with humans, determined that non-habitual sensory inputs from well chosen touch and movement would create awareness of habitual responses and thus enable the subject to develop new responses. Linda Tellington-Jones, after study with Feldenkrais, took this insight as a starting point and developed the touch and exercises of TTEAM for animals. One important difference is that Feldenkrais focused on impacting relearning in the nervous system while Linda’s TTouch/TTEAM techniques appear to extend the effect by directly affecting functioning on the local or cellular level.
The exact mechanism(s) of action whereby TTEAM TTouch achieves results still remain to be explained, but on an empirical basis we have found that using these techniques the worker can direct and manipulate awareness, providing inputs which activate the learning sequence and permit the animal to change.
The various touch and exercise techniques are well described in TTEAM books, periodicals, video tapes and training seminars. These sources are available as references, but brief comment is appropriate. TTEAM is not a variation of massage. Massage involves friction which many animals find annoying. Friction is not used in TTEAM.
Central to TTEAM is a unique circular TTouch. Tellington-Jones describes it thus: “Visualize a clock face. Place the fingertips at 6 o’clock. Move your fingers with the skin/tissue under them in a clockwise circle — from 6 to 9, 12 & 3 o’clock. Go past 6 o’clock and very slowly release between 7 and 8. Move the hand and repeat.” Pressure, speed, size of circle and configuration of the hand all are important and are varied for specific effects.
Reasonably correct technique is important in basic work. More precision is required as one advances since subtle differences change the quality of response. Tellington-Jones has selected and refined TTEAM techniques rather precisely during years of careful experimentation Now that she has developed the art, TTEAM is very transferable. Our introduction to TTEAM was an informal three hour session in a shed-row with a TTEAM practitioner. This amount of instruction enabled us to get results we found remarkable. A few minutes instruction is enough to permit clients to bring real comfort to their animals.
Providing comfort is not a matter of soft-hearted sentimentality. The goal is to minimize counterproductive stress responses. TTEAM is useful in allowing us to treat without creating iatrogenic stress. Indeed, with TTEAM we have a potent method which permits handling to reduce existing stress rather than add more stress. The animal freed from stress can respond appropriately to us and to its disease; it can participate fully in its own healing.
TTEAM has reduced the need for chemical restraint drugs for minor procedures. These drugs are safe, effective and often very useful but several inconveniences attend their use. Most require time to take effect and require time for recovery. They tend to alter the patient’s condition and responses in ways which are inconvenient and confuse the clinical picture. At times they are contraindicated; there is always a slight chance of an adverse reaction. They generally dull learning processes so that it is difficult to train an animal to accept treatments which must be repetitive.
With TTEAM we can reduce most animal’s fears and induce cooperation which permits completion of non-painful or minimally painful procedures in a straightforward manner. The calming is usually accomplished by the technician in the time it takes the veterinarian to explain the procedure to the client. Animals enjoy TTEAM, and clients are pleased when neither force nor drugs are required. The animal learns and accepts handling better the next time.
During use of TTEAM to facilitate procedures we experienced a subjective effect which requires explanation. The clinician is the interface between medicine and the patient. In this role we must stay in touch with two streams of information. One stream is from the accumulated medical wisdom; the other is from the patient and consists of the cues it sends about its condition and the effects of our efforts. For us TTEAM facilitates this mental process. This is experienced as a greater wealth and clarity of signals (signs, symptoms) which can be subjectively appreciated. The “clinical findings” are richer and more clear. Paradoxically, awareness and recall of stored scientific knowledge is better and making logical associations seems easier. We consulted Tellington-Jones and learned that similar subjective experience is common and that limited trials show humans have changed EEG patterns while doing TTEAM. These changes indicate increased activity of several brain wave classes in both cerebral hemispheres. The same trials revealed similar distinctive changes in the brain wave activity of the animals which were receiving TTEAM.
We have not reduced reliance on drugs, surgery or other conventional treatment. Neither have we lapsed into a sentimental or mystical view of human-animal relating. The fact remains that with TTEAM we can accomplish things that we could not accomplish before we used TTEAM. To a degree not experienced before, TTEAM gives the ability to effectively convey our healing intent to the animal and suggest to it ways in which it can help itself get well or function better.
Albert Schweitzer observed: “Medicine is not only a science, but also the art of letting our individuality interact with the individuality of the patient.” TTEAM brings scientifically derived techniques to that art. These techniques give the interaction far more power; they also make the art more teachable, more reproducible.
Linda walks a horse through a training labyrinth to improve communications between horse and handler. Note the body wrap which serves to increase the horse’s awareness of his entire body.
Full descriptions of our use of TTEAM in care and therapy must await another occasion. The following examples will illustrate the range of these uses. Listing a use does not imply that TTEAM is the only treatment used: it means we have found TTEAM beneficial and include it along with other measures in the treatment plan.
- Evaluating gait and locomotion problems and correcting many of those troublesome cases where “He isn’t lame — he’s just a little bit off.”
- Helping patients cope with stressors such as hospitalization, pain and confinement.
- Establish nursing reflex when it is deficient in neonates.
- Induce “nervous” dams to accept their young.
- Relieve signs of pain and normalize heart rate, membrane colour, capillary refill, and gut sounds in equine colic.
- Normalize circularity parameters in shock due to pain, exhaustion.
- Correct in-coordination during rehabilitation following CNS insults due to trauma and other causes.
- Soften and bring flexibility to areas of cutaneous scarring.
- Maintain suppleness and muscle tone during long confinement.
- Mitigate the effects of chronic painful musculoskeletal conditions.
- Relieve the chronic muscle “bracing” adopted as defence against pain or threat.
Overarching its various specific uses is TTEAM’s usefulness in transforming the human approach to animals. In our culture stances of aggression rather than those of helping are the dominant and accepted mode. Remarking on the ubiquity of violence, Solzhenitsyn has observed: “We use violence as a means of communication.” This cultural mindset is especially manifested in dealings with animals. Veterinarians, technicians and owners often assume an adversarial approach when relating to animals. They fallaciously assume a duality of choices: permissiveness versus domination. They choose to dominate out of fear of being dominated. Forgetting that force, pain, fear and intimidation are stressors rather than healing modalities, they employ these agents to manage the animal “for its own good.” Ethical questions aside, we are hired to encourage healing; to achieve healing the animal needs help, not harassment. TTEAM provides a way to avoid the false win-lose presumption and the actions which follow from it. With TTEAM, staff and owners can be taught how to relate by “showing the animal the way and then insistently guiding it to take it.” Equipped with TTEAM as an effective alternative, the human can give up aggression and put all his thought and energy into helping.
Modern medicine is a wondrous technology for healing. The potency of this high technology and the demands it makes on those of us who use it can lead us astray. We can forget that animals are not objects that patients are not broken machines which can be “fixed.” Hippocrates of Cos reminds us: “The natural healing force within each patient is the greatest force in getting well.”
Degrees, Boards and speciality notwithstanding, we can still only promote conditions which favour healing; the patient alone can heal. Medicine can become so hi-tech–low-touch that we forget the patient and the indispensable contribution he must make to his own health.
We cannot explain fully why the gentle TTEAM manoeuvres have effects so different from other touch such as petting, stroking, rubbing and massage. After comparisons done on hundreds of animals, we simply say TTEAM is more effective — to a completely higher order.
TTEAM provides hi-tech touch of such potency that small doses do much good. Thus, it is practical even under hectic conditions to return a traditional method to the art of medicine. In this scientific new guise, touch has therapeutic applications well beyond previous assumptions.
This article first appeared in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science Vol. 11 No. 3 – May/June 1991 – reprinted with permission. Slightly revised/updated May 2001.