Benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health Treatment and Rehabilitation
The holistic approach of equine therapy has been very beneficial to patients struggling with all types of addiction and social problems. The responsibility of caring for a horse helps give people with addictive behavior a sense of purpose to their daily routine. Having a sense of purpose makes it much easier to let go of the addictions and anxieties that once filled their life. Bonding and communicating with the horse helps foster respect – both for themselves and for the animal.
Behavior management is often a key component in any treatment plan. Both addiction and mental health issues are frequently accompanied by aggressive or violent tendencies or behaviors. These often end up endangering the patient, as well as loved ones. As these individuals learn to communicate with, and care for, their horse, they also have the opportunity to explore how the animal reacts to their different moods, vocal tones, and body language.
This "feedback" from the horse helps clients distinguish between hurtful or harmful behaviors and acceptable ways of asserting themselves. Lessons demonstrate the importance of trust and respect in a relationship, which are an important part of the therapeutic process. Personal reflection is also encouraged during equine-assisted therapy.
Many people who struggle with drug/alcohol addiction and/or mental health issues often experience significant feelings of inadequacy and diminished self-confidence. Working with horses in a structured therapy setting can help boost a sense of confidence and self-worth. As clients establish a relationship with the horse, it allows them to gain the horse’s trust and unconditional love. For many people, this is a very new experience – one that can be powerfully affirming. They often feel an incredible sense of accomplishment during their equine-assisted therapy sessions.
This country has witnessed a steady increase of troubled adolescents interfacing with the law. The phrase, “at risk youth”, refers to an adolescent who struggles with moderate to severe emotional and behavioral disturbances, which can ultimately lead them into areas such as gang culture, violence, petty/felony crime, substance abuse, and incarceration. Regardless of the reasons, teenagers who are emotionally unstable may become a danger to themselves and to others.
EAAT is proving to be a potent treatment modality suited for at-risk or disadvantaged youth. Studies have shown that spending time with a domesticated animal can reduce levels of stress and diminish hyper-arousal. Far from being haphazard, these therapies are focused and intentional, producing marked positive results.
The equine-assisted psychotherapy model is proving to be effective for helping teens overcome defiance, anger, low self-esteem, and mood disorders. Horses have a way of breaking down a teen’s barriers and defense mechanisms. Teens who struggle with relationships and authority will often accept the horse’s presence and feedback more readily. They develop a relationship based on respect, trust, and patience, which then equips them with skills to form and uphold healthy relationships with people.
Horses offer another interesting facet to therapy for at-risk youth – a different environment. Therapeutic activities with horses can be designed to require immediate response/reaction. This mimics the same processing and coping skills youths use under duress in their lives.
Working with the horses can help at-risk youth to:
Enhance problem solving & social skills
Learn empathy and stimulate creativity
Gain a sense of personal control
Learn stress, anger & frustration management
Decrease feeling of hoplessness & depression
Learn better communication skills
Build a stong & postive perception of self
Learn cause & effect - taking responsibility
Find direction, focus & meaing for life/future