In the modern world of addiction recovery, treatments have taken a more holistic turn. Today, treatment programs are seeking to treat the whole person using various experiential therapies. One of the most common ones is equine therapy. While equine therapy is not only used for treating addiction, its benefits for recovering addicts have been noted and thus it has become a popular form of treatment in the community.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, as the name suggests, involves placing horses within the therapeutic process. During the sessions, individuals feed, groom, and ride horses while facilitated by a mental health professional. There are multiple types of equine therapy, more commonly known as equine-assisted psychotherapy, such as:
- Equine-facilitated psychotherapy
- Equine-assisted counseling
- Equine-assisted mental health
- Equine-assisted therapy (more general)
The goal of equine therapy is to help individuals learn various skills, such as responsibility, self-confidence, and emotional regulation. By taking care of an animal as big as a horse and being responsible for it during the session, individuals are better able to handle stress, grow their confidence, and feel as though they have greater responsibilities.
Equine therapy is best used alongside other forms of treatment. Other types of experiential therapy can also be used, as well as evidence-based treatments and programs.
How Does Equine Therapy Work?
During the sessions, both a horse trainer and a mental health professional (such as a psychotherapist) are present. At the beginning of the sessions, the individual will begin by having small amounts of contact with the horse, such as grooming, feeding, and petting it. As the sessions progress, more contact is incorporated, such as harnessing and saddling the horse with or without the assistance of the trainer. Individuals may only lead the horse or ride it, depending on the program.
Horses are excellent animals for addiction treatment because they are able to sense your feelings and emotions. They respond to you in regards to how you’re feeling, something you may not be getting in individual or group therapy. In this way, you are better able to connect with the horse. Horses are also quite smart, displaying characteristics such as sensitivity, strength, and responsiveness.
Who Is Equine Therapy Best For?
Children, teenagers, and adults can all gain benefits from equine therapy. It treats individuals with both mental and physical ailments in a more calm and less confrontational environment. It treats a wide range of issues and concerns, such as:
- Trust in others/self
- Impulse control
- Emotional regulation and awareness
- Social skills
- Relationships and social skills
The wide range of concerns treated by equine therapy extends far past this list. Most individuals can benefit in some way from equine therapy, even if just to deal with stress.
Addictions and co-occurring disorders are treated through equine therapy by helping guide clients toward being more open and vulnerable in their treatment. By working one on one with a horse, individuals learn to build trust and work on relationship dynamics.
Equine therapy provides a less direct and confrontational approach to therapy since the client is not talking with another human, but rather spending time learning how to communicate with a horse. Effective communication is crucial in recovery as recovering addicts begin working to mend damaged relationships. Clients are given a new perspective as they progress in the therapy. They learn to maintain a routine schedule and hold themselves accountable.
Equine therapy helps recovering addicts learn how to regulate their emotions. This is helpful in addiction treatment because more often than not, addicts display aggressive and violent behaviors. In treatment, they work to correct these, and equine therapy is a great tool for this.
Individuals working one-on-one with a horse must build a relationship with the animal. This means they will have to learn how to assert themselves in a healthy manner by analyzing the horse’s reaction to their tone, mood, and body language. Based on this information, the person can build trust with the horse and learn to be less aggressive.
Working with a horse during various therapy sessions can give recovering addicts a sense of purpose. As their relationship with the horse builds, they begin to form a bond and maybe even love toward the horse as they care for them. This may be completely new for some recovering addicts, as it teaches them to be more vulnerable.
The sense of purpose involved in equine-assisted therapy develops even more as the clients begin to feel like they are an integral part of the horses’ lives. When this sense of heightened self-esteem and confidence hits, it becomes easier for clients to take control of their addiction. They see themselves as strong and able to block out negative thoughts as they progress in their therapy.
Equine-assisted therapy is a newer treatment in the world of addiction recovery. One of several experiential therapies, clients are able to develop communication skills, build trust, learn vulnerability, and take on responsibility by working with horses. Horses are used because they are excellent at sensing emotions and responding accordingly. Throughout the sessions, recovering addicts are able to see how their emotions affect close relationships as they build bonds with horses. Their self-confidence will also increase as they take on the responsibilities of caring for the horses. When used in conjunction with other addiction treatments, equine-assisted therapy can play a vital role in the journey to sobriety. To learn more about equine therapy and how it can help you, contact Northstar Transitions at (303) 558-6400 today.