Equine Therapy For Addiction Treatment

Equine therapy, sometimes called horse-assisted therapy, is an alternative approach to addiction treatment. This form of therapy allows patients to create a positive sense of self that is responsible, useful, and accepted. Studies show that patients who participate in equine therapy are more likely to complete treatment and stay engaged throughout their recovery process.

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Anyone who has witnessed a loved one struggle with addiction can see the toll it takes on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. One of the reasons people may get stuck in the cycle of addiction is the damaged view they have of themselves. Those who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse may think they are “too far gone,” and unworthy of a chance to recover.

However, equine therapy insists otherwise. When patients engage in alternative treatment approaches like equine therapy, they are given the opportunity to feel useful, motivated, and connected to the bigger picture of their life.

Addiction Campuses offer inpatient rehab programs that incorporate alternative treatment like equine therapy. Horse-assisted therapy (HAT) can be especially beneficial for those who have a treatment goal of improving relationships and building personal responsibility.

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What Is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is an alternative therapy that involves direct interaction with therapeutically trained horses. This form of therapy often involves equine education, animal grooming, and being responsible for providing the horses with food and water.

Addiction treatment can be approached in many different ways. The highest quality of care should include diverse treatment options, including traditional and alternative therapies. In recent years, there has been an increase of these complementary therapies that engage patients outside of a traditional, clinical setting.

Yoga, mindfulness, music, and animal-assisted therapy have gained popularity among patients and staff alike. Among these alternative offerings is equine therapy, which has been shown to statistically increase a person’s chance of completing treatment.

Equine therapy helps patients build skills such as responsibility and integrity outside of a traditional treatment setting. Quality equine therapy programs will usually include 12 sessions, all of which build on one another. It’s not necessary to have prior experience with horses to participate in equine therapy.

Benefits Of Equine Therapy In Drug And Alcohol Addiction Treatment

One study found that substance use disorder patients who were encouraged to engage in treatment that focused on a personal hobby like art or music had a more positive experience in treatment. This personal level of engagement also increased the patient’s likelihood of completing the recommended course of treatment.

Up to 50 percent of people do not complete addiction treatment. Equine therapy and other complementary treatment methods are proven to improve a patient’s chance of staying in treatment for the recommended time.

In equine therapy, patients engage in activities that build a sense of:

  • productivity
  • usefulness
  • contribution
  • meaning
  • achievement
  • purpose
  • appreciation

Participating in equine therapy also provides patients with the opportunity to receive appropriate praise from their therapists. As patients learn and grow in their sense of self, therapists involved in the sessions are able to provide support and encouragement in the moment.

Patients also learn to honor a regular commitment. This constructive use of time helps to instill a sense of personal and relational responsibility. In short, equine therapy teaches patients that what we do as individuals can have a deep impact on others. Additional benefits of equine therapy include:

Managing Emotions

People who struggle with substance abuse may have used substances to mask unpleasant emotions in the past. This can result in an inability to negotiate conflict in a healthy manner.

Working with horses in equine therapy inspires a sense of reverence. The size and presence of the horses is enough to garner respect. Once the horses begin to interact with the group, patients may begin to form a bond with their horse. This connection can help people build the emotional stamina required to manage difficult feelings like frustration or impatience.

Positive Identification

Rehab centers can be highly verbal environments that involve heavy emotional processing. While this has value, it can be a nice change of pace to work with your hands and feel physically useful. One research study that examined equine therapy impacts found that participants responded positively to the manual labor components of each session.

Patients also mentioned the identity shift that occurred for them in equine therapy. Instead of being addressed in the context of substance abuse, they felt valued as a useful participant in the stables. One patient said it felt like they were no longer “a problem to be fixed.”

Being around trained horses and a therapeutic staff is designed to create a sense of calm. Patients feel grounded when they are in the horse’s environment, which can help to create a space that feels safe, supportive, and nurturing.

Enhanced Relationships

Being outside of a clinical setting also seemed to change the interaction between patients and staff. Patients reported feeling a renewed sense of connection with their therapists when at the stables.

In equine therapy, patients are not prompted to discuss their drug history or background. It’s simply about being in the here and now. Patients are encouraged to ask themselves, “What is the goal at hand? How will I relate to the horse in order to accomplish this goal?” This provides a positive setting in which to begin the journey of self-awareness.

Finding An Addiction Treatment Program That Incorporates Equine Therapy

In order to provide quality rehab programs, Addiction Campuses offer a diverse array of treatment modalities. Equine therapy is offered, in addition to therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), trauma grounding, and medication-assisted treatment.

The skills people learn in treatment are designed to last for a lifetime, and equine therapy can be an important factor in this process. Honing communication skills and developing a sense of self-worth can serve a person well after they have completed treatment.
For more information on equine therapy, or to explore Addiction Campuses’ treatment options, reach out to one of our specialists today.

National Institutes of Health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5054942/

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