Did you know that spending time with horses can bring therapeutic effects? This is especially true for people recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) and related mental health issues. Forming bonds with animals can have a profound effect on your overall well-being.
The term “equine-assisted therapy” (EAT) may sound unfamiliar to you, but you may be familiar with petting zoos. EAT is similar, in that participants are invited to engage in activities with horses, including grooming, feeding, and leading a horse, with the additional mental health benefits that come from being guided by a mental health professional.
EAT can help individuals relearn basic life skills. These include emotional responsiveness, emotional regulation, self-confidence, and personal responsibility. The approach is highly experiential and participants are not restricted in the same way as in a formal therapy session.
Although many animals can be used in the psychotherapeutic process, horses have become a top choice for animal-assisted healing. People often feel a sense of peace when a horse is present. These animals are sensitive to human beings’ emotional expressions. Their non-judgmental and unbiased presence alone can be very soothing. Further, since horses are known to sense and mirror a person’s emotions, individuals in EAT must practice self-awareness and emotional control so the horse remains calm.
Although equine therapy has proven to be effective for treating mental health issues like anxiety, it is not often used as a main form of treatment, but rather as a complementary therapeutic method in conjunction with other treatments.
Helping Children and Teens
EAT is as effective with children and teens as it is with adults. It offers a therapeutic environment that feels less intimidating and more fun. Because young people who have experienced traumatic stress often find it challenging to open up and process painful emotions, equine therapy offers a safe emotional outlet.
The equine-assisted approach has been used to address common mental and behavioral issues such as assertiveness, impulse control, problem-solving, trust, and social skills. Youth who are in a vulnerable mental state or life stage may find it easier to connect with a horse and align their experiences with that of the animal.
Providing care for a horse, including feeding, exercising, and grooming the animal, can also be therapeutic. This helps people learn how to establish routines and structure. The act of caring, nurturing, and trusting another being helps encourage empathy.
Some programs offer equine-assisted learning, a skill-building model for personal goals. A facilitator can make a lesson plan based on the participant’s goals. Then the facilitator will direct lessons in horse-care-related activities. For children and teens, this learning experience has many of the same benefits as therapeutic sessions. It can be integrated with play therapy, story-telling, and cognitive therapy.
Equine Therapy and Mental Health Disorders
Horses can be especially helpful with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be caused by violence and abuse. People who experience PTSD often feel unable to bond with anyone again. By spending time with horses, connection with another being is restored.
Individuals who are recovering from mental health issues—especially co-occurring disorders with SUD—may encounter tensions in relationships. Learning to trust, practice vulnerability, and communicate effectively can be a challenge. Equine therapy can help them relearn a sense of trust.
During equine-assisted therapy sessions, a trained therapist will guide the process. Usually, riding isn’t involved. The therapist’s focus is on presence, attention, mindfulness, boundaries, and social interactions through feeding, grooming, and leading the horse around. Immediately, individuals can feel improved focus and lowered stress.
Getting Ready for Experiencing Equine Therapy
If you are thinking of adding equine therapy to your or your loved one’s comprehensive addiction treatment plan, there are some factors to consider. First, consider the whole recovery process. You need to complete detox and preliminary treatment that offers medical monitoring before EAT can be most effective.
Also, consider that many people may fear being around a large animal like a horse. Willingness to partake in any kind of therapeutic intervention is a key factor for full participation and effective healing. If you or your loved one will be uncomfortable in this setting, it may not be for you.
Since equine-assisted psychotherapy is just gaining traction, check whether this service is covered by your insurance benefits. EAT fees vary by location and may or may not be within your insurance coverage. It is recommended that you contact your insurance company and your local equine therapy facility to verify the financial assistance you can expect through insurance.
Most EAT programs have an assessment process to determine if this is the right approach for you. You can speak with a trained mental health provider about whether this is a good fit. Once you start, it is guaranteed to be an amazing journey.
Are you or a loved one struggling with SUD and its co-occurring mental health problems? Did you know equine-assisted therapy can help you heal from anxiety and depression? If you are looking to integrate this holistic treatment into your recovery, you do not need to look beyond Laguna Shores Recovery. Here you will experience the benefits of innovative, holistic treatment. We strive to provide customized programs to ensure the best treatment for you. We offer plans that may include detox, medication, 12-Step groups, relationship skills coaching, and more to ensure you have the best and most fulfilling treatment journey with us. While we don’t facilitate EAT at our facility, we can help connect you with an EAT program for an experiential treatment option that can impact your recovery journey for the better. Call us at (866) 906-3203 to find out more.