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Traditional treatments for drug and/or alcohol addiction often include detoxification under medical guidance, rehabilitation, and a combination of traditional and holistic therapies. During the last twenty years, equine therapy has grown in popularity as a successful form of holistic therapy for the treatment of those with substance use disorders. It is part of the group of therapies called Animal-Assisted Therapy. For a long time, it has been known that animals have therapeutic qualities. Many people have seen that spending time with dogs or cats can cheer someone up, reduce stress, and even relieve pain. Spending time with horses has the same effect.
What is Equine Therapy?
A type of experiential therapy, equine therapy (also known as equine-assisted psychotherapy, equine-assisted therapy, and horse therapy) involves interactions between horses and people. It is used to work through some of the emotional and psychological issues that the individual might have difficulty addressing using traditional therapy. Under the supervision of a mental health professional that is a certified equine therapist, and sometimes with the additional support of a horse professional, the individual interacts with the horse by performing certain guided activities such as feeding or grooming. Additional activities could include:
- Carriage driving
- Therapeutic riding
The equine therapist observes and interacts with the individual during the activity and after it is finished. By doing this, the therapist can identify patterns of behavior and help the client process the thoughts and emotions that occurred.
The Goal of Equine Therapy
The goal of equine therapy is to help individuals in recovery develop much-needed attributes and skills, such as self-confidence, accountability, self-control, responsibility, and problem-solving. By spending time with and learning how to be responsible for the horse, the individual learns to follow a regular schedule. This gives them something positive to focus on.
Often those who have struggled with addiction feel inadequate and lack self-confidence. By working with horses, over time their sense of self-confidence and self-worth increases. As the bond between the person and the horse grows, the individual earns the horse’s unconditional love and trust. For many in recovery, this is an experience that can be life-affirming and profoundly healing.
The Benefits of Equine Therapy
Because they are pack animals, horses have the ability to sense and respond to the feelings of other creatures. They can tell when a person is feeling nervous, scared, sad, angry, or happy. In an article for PsychCentral, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. explains the benefits of this type of therapy for those in recovery:
Instant insight and feedback: Since horses are able to sense the emotions and feelings of people and respond accordingly, they act as a mirror, allowing the individual to see and understand things about themselves they may not have been aware of.
- Trust-building opportunities: A person may not have developed the feeling of a trusting relationship with their therapist or may feel uncomfortable talking about certain things in a traditional therapy setting. These individuals often find equine therapy an environment where they feel comfortable and safe. A feeling of trust develops between the individual and the horse and between the individual and the therapist. The person then feels comfortable opening up and discussing things with the therapist.
- An opportunity for learning: Interactions with the horses provide the client the opportunity to look at and modify how they interact with people. The equine therapist can use the interactions with the horses to open a conversation about the individual’s addiction and how it plays into any other social or psychological issues.
- Development of healthy relationships: Horses do not pass judgment in a relationship. Since they are non-judgmental, an individual dealing with the consequences of a negative relationship caused by their addiction to drugs or alcohol is able to rebuild their confidence without having to worry about criticism.
Many times a person suffering from a substance use disorder also has other underlying problems besides low self-esteem and poor self-confidence. Additional conditions include the inability to cope, poor relationship building skills, poor impulse control, and problems with basic problem-solving. Equine therapy helps to build all those areas as well as providing the following additional benefits:
- Develops empathy
- Builds assertiveness
- Teaches tolerance
- Helps to build emotional understanding and awareness
- Encourages independence
- Helps individuals to learn how to pick up on social cues
Equine-Assisted Therapy at Canyon Vista Recovery Center
At Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona, we offer a range of holistic therapies to help those struggling with substance use disorder. Our biweekly equine therapy program, led by licensed clinicians specializing in equine-assisted therapy, can help you or your loved one build confidence, improve communication skills, and address mental health concerns. Call and speak to a caring staff member today.