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Animals can offer an incredible amount of emotional support and contribute to an increased sense of well-being. Many people have experienced this through pet-owner relationships and service animal experiences. Beyond this, a variety of different animals have been used in therapeutic settings to foster this sense of support and motivate clients to push through challenging life experiences. One of these therapeutic experiences is referred to as equine therapy, incorporating horses into a treatment therapy process. 

What to Know About Equine Therapy

Equine therapy works as a combination of psychotherapy and horse care. The activities involved in equine therapy vary by facility, but most include feeding, grooming, and even leading a horse under the supervision of a mental health professional. Equine therapy also involves unique goals, including teaching individuals skills that are necessary for emotional regulation and responsibility. The hulking size of a mature horse has the ability to foster these skills, as it is initially intimidating to guide and care for a large animal. 

What Does Equine Therapy Entail?

Equine therapy has an experimental approach to treatment, much different than traditional psychotherapy. Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) offers a unique experience that brings clients outdoors. Clients are encouraged to work through and process their emotional challenges through the emotional support of the animal, just through caring for it and being in its presence. It is not a sole form of treatment on its own, though it can be considered a complementary therapeutic service that is used along with traditional psychotherapy.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is an option for individuals of all ages, as well as group settings. It can be accomplished in a variety of different populations and settings and can make treatment seem more purposeful than a traditional therapy experience. Especially for children and teens, this therapeutic approach can feel much more inviting than a therapy office. It can encourage children to engage in treatment rather than it feeling like a chore. It is common for children to open up and express their thoughts and emotions around traumatic experiences when in the company of an animal, which only scratches the surface of EAP benefits. 

Benefits of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

While every animal holds unique benefits for service and therapy, horses have been noted to be a top-choice in regard to animal-assisted therapy for a variety of reasons such as offering:

  • Non-judgmental support
  • Unbiased support
  • Feedback and mirroring movement as well as emotion
  • A comfortable space to be vulnerable with one’s emotions
  • Greater responsibility for care due to size and specialized needs of the animal

When it comes to recovery from mental health illness or addiction, equine-assisted therapy also holds many benefits. Working directly with a horse allows a person to make necessary connections between how kindly or compassionately they treat an animal, thus learning healthy ways to approach relationships in their personal life. When an individual is given the opportunity to care for something outside of themselves, they will gain confidence and trust in their own ability to care for themselves and those around them. Like other addiction treatment, other benefits of EAP include:

  • Fostering confidence and self-worth
  • Increased communication skills
  • Increased compassion
  • Learning new perspectives
  • Learning how to retrain intrusive or harmful thoughts
  • Gaining control over triggers or cravings
  • Establishing healthy mental, emotional, and physical boundaries
  • Reduced isolation

Equine Care Becomes Self-Care

Equine-assisted therapy gives clients an opportunity to move outside of their comfort zones. Traditional recovery treatment emphasizes a focus on the self, although EAP does so in a way that provides a more meaningful and intentional experience alongside an animal companion. In treatment, a client will be exposed to a stable environment to provide care for the animal while working towards self-discovery. It will also enable the client to engage in the treatment setting, as the client must consider the needs of the horse while learning the necessary skills to overcome addiction. There are many mindfulness elements involved in the EAP process, as caring for an animal in the present moment causes an individual to focus only on what they are able to control. 

Ultimately, those in treatment for substance use or other mental health conditions ultimately find the most success when their therapies are tailored to their individualized needs. Although treatment facilities recognize this, many facilities only offer a small pool of treatment programs and approaches. When you consider treatment for yourself or your loved one, it is crucial to address the treatment services that a facility offers. Evidence-based approaches alongside complementary approaches can show significant success in treating a range of issues. If the safety of a client, as well as the animal, is prioritized, equine-assisted psychotherapy can be a wonderful option to consider as a treatment for mental health recovery. 

Animals have the ability to provide significant emotional support during challenging emotional experiences. When combined with psychotherapy, treatment is likely to yield positive results. One option of animal-assisted psychotherapy includes equine-assisted psychotherapy, also known as horse therapy. In this approach, a client is given the responsibility to care for and lead a horse while engaging in dialogue with a mental health professional. The horse provides emotional support from a place of non-judgment, empowering a client to share difficult emotional experiences. This form of therapy is known to increase confidence, compassion, and communication overall during treatment. The skills that are acquired working with a horse translate into the recovery experience. For instance, being gentle with a horse can teach a client how to approach their personal relationships. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we favor complementary treatment in coordination with traditional approaches. It is important to foster emotional bonding that is achieved through connections with animals. Call (760) 492-6509 today.