What do horses and overcoming chemical dependency and addiction have to do with one another? The answer is recovery. At Phoenix Rising, equine therapy is one of the many treatment options for clients in rehab. Equine therapy works well even if you aren’t a horse person. Here’s what an equine therapy program brings to the table.

Why Equine Therapy Works

what is equine therapyOur California dual diagnosis treatment center here at Phoenix Rising Recovery routinely works with individuals who need more than behavioral counseling. Remember that addiction is a disease that affects the whole person. It isn’t just in the mind. Similarly, addiction doesn’t only change the body. It affects the mind, body, and spirit if a person allows it to. Therefore, to properly treat addiction, individuals should use professional addiction therapies that treat the mind, body, and spirit. 

Most traditional forms of addiction talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, focus on treating the mind and body by focusing on altering one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Many of these traditional forms of addiction therapy even use medications to help treat the mind and body. 

There are some holistic and alternative forms of addiction therapy that are known to treat the mind, body, and spirit all at one time. One of the most effective of these holistic/alternative forms of addiction therapy is equine therapy. 

What Is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is horse therapy. What we mean by this is that equine therapy is a form of therapy that uses live horses to help people get out of their minds and bodies and connect with their emotions. 

Individuals that suffer from addiction use equine-assisted psychotherapy to connect with their inner selves so that they can come to terms with their addiction triggers. Equine therapy is also a great way for individuals that suffer from addiction to cope with their addiction triggers. 

Ultimately, an equine therapy program is a personal development tool. It emphasizes introspection, which results in emotional growth. 

How Equine Therapy Works

Equine therapy starts out easy with the individual receiving equine therapy for addiction simply brushing the hairs on a horse. A horse trainer is nearby at all times during equine therapy to guide patients through all interactions with horses.

As the individual receiving equine therapy feels more comfortable with the horse, he or she will begin leading it. Individuals in equine-assisted psychotherapy may even get to feed the horse. 

Benefits of Equine Therapy

Horseback riding isn’t necessary to receive emotional and therapeutic benefits from the interactions with a horse. In fact, many people that take equine therapy experience a breakthrough without riding the backs of horses.

People that struggle with mood disorders or addiction and co-occurring mood disorders are particularly great candidates for equine therapy as it helps them connect with their true emotions in a manner that opens them up and allows them to be more empathetic. 

Individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders could also benefit from equine therapy as this form of therapy is calming and a great self-esteem booster. Equine therapy often helps build people’s self-esteem because it shows individuals that they’re capable of caring for a live creature. 

Horse therapy is a great way to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Doing that alone is often key to making new life achievements. 

Individuals that take equine therapy must also trust in its therapeutic process and benefits to receive them. Because many of the tasks during equine therapy are routine, your mind wanders while doing them. That’s a good thing during treatment and recovery.

Individuals in addiction recovery now have time to process the things that they learned during psychotherapy. Maybe there was a conversation a person in equine therapy once had with a loved one that he or she still needs to digest. 

Due to some of the routine activities done during equine therapy, it’s a great time to ponder on past triggering conversations. Making plans for a sober future is also something that takes place as individuals brush the horses that are used in equine therapy.

Why Horses Are Great Animals to Use During Animal-Assisted Therapy

equine therapyHorses make great therapy animals for a number of reasons. One key reason is that horses are sensitive to the emotional and mental state of human beings. This is evident by the fact that horses mirror the thoughts and emotions of human beings in their behavior. For example, if a human being near a horse is calm, cool, and collected, so will be the horse. 

Horses can even mirror combative and depressing thoughts and emotions. The mirroring of human emotions by horses is evident by studies done on human-horse interactions and the behaviors that horses express when around humans of different moods.

By being so sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of humans through mirroring and other horse behaviors, people in horse therapy can become aware of their inner thoughts and emotions and the vibes that they give off. This helps individuals in equine therapy gain self-awareness. 

In fact, according to a study published in The Practitioner Scholar: Journal of Counseling and Professional Psychology, women that received equine-assisted psychotherapy received so much self-realization and had such a boost in self-esteem afterward,  that they were finally able to end their toxic relationships. Also, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, in a 2008 PubMed Central (PMC) study on the benefits of animal-assisted therapy, individuals that received equine therapy reported higher levels of self-esteem and coping ability.   

The fact that horses are so sensitive to human thoughts and emotions also helps people in equine therapy build a sense of trust in horses. This is because such sensitivity makes horses seem non-judgemental and inviting. 

Skills Taught Through Equine Therapy

Equine-assisted psychotherapy teaches individuals a wide range of skills that can help them overcome their addictions, manage addiction triggers, and maintain sobriety. Some of the most useful skills that equine therapy teaches addiction treatment patients include:

  • How to balance internal emotions
  • Confidence and assertiveness
  • How to establish boundaries
  • Resiliency
  • Focus
  • How to connect with others, verbally and non-verbally
  • How to change negative emotions into positive ones
  • Emotional growth and awareness
  • Mindfulness and relaxation

Integrating Equine Therapy with Evidence-Based Practices

Most people enjoy their time alone with horses during equine therapy. This is especially true since there are no distractions during equine therapy. This is because nobody talks to people directly while in horse therapy. In fact, individuals that are taking equine-assisted psychotherapy might be the ones doing all the talking while interacting with the horses. Hence why many individuals that take equine therapy feel like they can hear themselves think.

Of course, an equine-assisted psychotherapy program has to be part of a comprehensive care plan. It’s not something that can stand alone in a fight against chemical dependency. Other addiction treatment programs and therapies that can be included in a care plan with equine therapy include:

  • Detoxification, which takes the drug out of the equation and in a safe, pain-free setting
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which encourages individuals to switch out adverse pattern actions with positive ones.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment for clients with mood or personality disorders that contribute to substance abuse
  • Trauma-informed care, which provides individuals with the time to work through a traumatic situation from the past that continues to interrupt that person’s daily life
  • Group therapy with peers who’re learning to relate to others while sober

Co-Occurring Disorders That Could Benefit from Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is just as beneficial for mental health treatment as it is for addiction treatment. Because of this, equine therapy is highly beneficial at treating co-occurring disorders. 

Some of the co-occurring disorders that would benefit most from equine therapy include:

Family Therapy is a Cornerstone for Recovery

People’s loved ones are an integral aspect of daily life. However, there are times when they contribute to the development of stressors. That said, family members are also in need of healing. That’s why Phoenix Rising recognizes the importance of bringing in family members into addiction treatment and therapy.

During equine therapy, individuals might think through the things that they heard while in a relationship counseling session. Some won’t be pleasant. Nevertheless, it’s essential to get things out in the open with family members with the help of therapists. Doing so will help you and your loved ones learn how to communicate effectively with one another.

There’s No Bad Day to Start Equine Therapy Treatment At Phoenix Rising Recovery

You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to seek help for chemical dependency or addiction. Since substance dependency and addiction progress and worsen consistently, time is of the essence. Therefore, it’s vital that a person with a progressing substance dependency and addiction attend rehab at a professional addiction treatment center such as Phoenix Rising Recovery. 

To make the most out of rehab, individuals should incorporate equine therapy within their addiction treatment programs. Luckily, we here at Phoenix Rising Recovery offer all of our patients the opportunity to receive equine therapy. Find out how equine therapy could make a significant change in your life today. 

For answers to inquiries about the equine therapy program here at Phoenix Rising Recovery, or any of our addiction treatment programs for that matter, contact us today! We are more than willing to answer any questions that you may have. 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323374/