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“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” ~ Winston Churchill ~

How does a diplomat go from working in war-torn countries to establishing a holistic equine-facilitated psychotherapy centre?

Jean-Jacques Joris, a former Swiss diplomat, Naropa University graduate with an MA in Transpersonal Counselling Psychotherapy, and upcoming guest speaker at the Authentic Leadership Program this summer shares how a sequence of synchronistic events started him on his journey to life and leadership coaching through his passion for horses.

Born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, he began his career as a diplomat in the Swiss Foreign Service. As a diplomatic advisor to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. Here he had first-hand experience of working with leaders in extremely tense environments where people were continually living on a very high baseline of adrenaline.


While Jean-Jacques was working at The Hague, the heavy and poisonous work environment began to take its toll on him. Knowing his passion for horses, his wife suggested he buy a horse to help him restore his connection to nature. He bought a mare and boarded her in a stable in the middle of The Hague so he could ride her every night. However, he found that every night, when he went to the stable, the horse would cringe, retreat to the farthest corner of her stall and avoid him. This happened continually until one night, he broke down in frustration. The more upset he became, however, the more the horse started paying attention to him. When he became really emotional, she approached him and put her head on his heart. For Jean-Jacques, that was an extraordinary learning experience of how the power of authenticity and honesty can be mirrored in the most unexpected way – by a horse offering an acceptance of him that he was failing to give himself on a daily basis.

At some point in his career, he recognized that the stressful nature of his work was not compatible with family life, and he began to contemplate a new career that would encompass aspects of what he found fulfilling. He was working in the West Bank at the time and fortuitously happened to read about Naropa University in an Israeli newspaper. He researched Naropa and came across a psychotherapy workshop with horses. Having been a horseman all his life, he was immediately attracted to the concept of psychotherapy applied in an equine context. With the full support and encouragement from his wife, Jean-Jacques resigned from his work in the diplomatic service and began to study equine-assisted psychotherapy through a holistic approach.

He has never regretted his decision and his journey has come full circle. In 2009, he and his wife Isabelle, a physical therapist by training, combined their unique talents and expertise to co-found Twin Oaks Farm, a mindfulness-based, equine-assisted life and leadership counseling and coaching centre.

Through the experience of observing a horse’s intuitive response to our actions, Jean-Jacques passionately believes we can learn how to manage our emotions and communicate more effectively, thereby becoming more effective leaders and better human beings.

Jean-Jacques Joris is a co-founder with his wife Isabelle, of Twin Oaks Farm, a holistic equine assisted life and leadership counselling and coaching centre established in 2009, which offers a mindfulness-based equine-assisted psychotherapy.

A native of Geneva, Switzerland Jean-Jacques, who is fluent in five languages, spent 15 yeas in the Swiss foreign service, working and living in war-torn countries and high conflict areas, where he witnessed the power of human resiliency in the face of great suffering.

After leaving the diplomatic service, Jean-Jacques graduated from Naropa University with an MA in Transpersonal Counselling Psychotherapy. He is currently on the Naropa University Adjunct Faculty.

Jean-Jacques is an EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) practitioner, was trained as a mental health specialist with the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), is a Naropa-certified mindfulness instructor, and a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis

Jean-Jacques Joris

Director, WiseActions


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