From humans and horses to a PhD in Psychology

Some people find emotional healing through interacting with horses. Researchers usually focus on the therapist facilitating this process. But 25-year old Chevonne Powell already has a Masters in Clinical Psychology, Cum Laude, focusing on the client experience in interacting with these powerful creatures. Now she plans to trot on to a PhD within a year.

Extroverts enjoy interacting with other people. To this extrovert Chevonne Powell adds interacting with horses and doing research on the healing experiences of other people interacting with horses. Her Master’s dissertation in Clinical Psychology focused on “Clients’ experience of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP).”

Now she is doing community service as a clinical psychologist at the Far East Rand Hospital, close to where she grew up in Boksburg.

A large part of becoming a psychologist is focusing on the community and social change, says Powell. The UJ course included social outreach programmes which allowed the students to work with people at shelters, orphanages, schools and non-governmental organisations. This way people had access to services they would not be able to afford otherwise.​

“EAP is psychotherapy with horses – thus horses healing humans,” she says.

“My research was primarily focused on understanding the client’s point of view in EAP. Very often in psychotherapy research, the focus is on the therapist and how the therapist understands the client and the therapeutic process. I wanted to give the client a voice, as the client is the most important component in therapy,” says Powell.

Growing up, Powell says she was always interested in human interactions and behaviour. This led her to pursue a career in Psychology immediately after matriculating.

“Psychology is a difficult field. The selection process is intense. However I love what I do and continue to enjoy learning and growing in my chosen career path. My academic experience at UJ was extremely positive,” says Powell.

“We were a small group of students which allowed for learning through interaction and experience. Our lecturers were warm and accommodating, treating us like colleagues instead of students. I learned a great deal from the people around me. It was far more rewarding than merely learning from a text book.”

Studying full-time enabled her to complete the course, she says, along with support from family, peers, and supervisors. Still, her main challenge was attempting to juggle her studies with her personal life.

Before joining UJ, Powell studied BA and Honours Psychology degrees at UNISA, also completing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education at the same institution.

Powell attended primary school at Veritas College and later went to Boksburg High until Grade 9. Her parents discovered a small ‘home school’ that followed the Cambridge curriculum. She enrolled at the school, along with 16 other students, until she matriculated at the age of sixteen.

Powell grew up in a small, Christian family.

“My parents viewed education as a priority, as a result I was always encouraged to work hard and achieve good results. Creative and abstract thinking was also encouraged in our home,” says Powell.

She says: “I grew up thinking about what I experienced and saw around me. This has helped me to think out of the box and think past stereotypes and generalisations. I have found this to be a great help in my chosen career, which places emphasis on seeing each person as an individual.”

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