The use of horses as part of a therapeutic treatment can help people achieve growth in their emotional and personal lives, particularly if their priorities have become unclear. When used as part of a substance abuse program, equine therapy for addiction can provide significant benefits to some individuals. It has been known to show positive results with some people who had limited success with other forms of treatment like counseling or twelve-step programs.
A History of Equine Therapy
Therapeutic riding was first introduced as a way to treat certain orthopedic conditions in Germany. Patients would be matched with a physiotherapist and a horse trainer for a year, with the objective of improving his or her condition and strength.
The popularity of equine therapy for addiction gradually grew and soon reached American shores. In 1969, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH int’l) was founded in the US with a focus on providing a range of equine related therapies for those with disabilities. In 1999, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) were formed with a greater focus on the potential mental and emotional health benefits of equine therapy.
Why Equine Therapy?
Animals have long been known to have beneficial therapeutic qualities. Most of us have seen how spending time with cats or dogs can reduce stress, cheer someone up and even relieve pain. The same is true of horses.
Spending time with the horse provides a recovering addict with something positive to focus on. Over the course of their therapy session, they learn to be responsible for the horse and adhere to a regular schedule.
As individuals continue to work with horses in a therapeutic setting, they gain a greater sense of self-worth and self-confidence. This is particularly important since a great many of those who have struggled with addiction lack self-confidence and feel inadequate. They begin to form a bond with the horse, eventually earning its trust and unconditional love. The experience can be overwhelming and life affirming.
Finding the Right Treatment Program
At Beachway Therapy Center, equine therapy is just one of the many services we provide. We believe that the most effective treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction must be multi-faceted so that all of the underlying root causes can be addressed. A holistic and all-encompassing approach that is individually tailored for each patient is the best way to achieve a successful recovery. Some of the other holistic therapies we offer include psychodrama therapy, art therapy, and music therapy.
How Equine Therapy Works
A certified equine therapist leads these sessions, which are guided activities and interactions between the individual and the horse. Some of the activities include equine facilitated learning, carriage driving, vaulting and therapeutic riding.
Horses have no hidden agenda and they don’t judge. Their needs are clear, as are their boundaries. Relationships with horses are built on trust. That means it’s very difficult to manipulate or bully a horse. And since trust is often a significant hurdle to overcome in the recovery process, that relationship of trust can be an important building block.
Equine therapy can be particularly helpful for individuals who tend to intellectualize their feelings. These patients tend to have difficulty being in touch with their emotions, which is often a major block in their recovery process. Working with horses helps to reconnect them with their feelings of anger, resentment, fear, sadness and loneliness.
The work done on the ground, taking care of and grooming the horse, is just as important as the time spent riding because this is where the bond and trust between the individual and the animal is formed. Horses respond nonverbally with the patient during those interactions. Human emotions are often mirrored through the animals, providing patients with a better understanding of themselves. Through this process, they can overcome some of their frustration and fears.
Equine Therapy and Behavioral Issues
Aggressive, violent or antisocial behaviors often go hand-in-hand with alcohol and drug addiction. Addressing these behavioral issues can be an important part of the treatment plan because these behavioral patterns can be harmful to the patient and his or her loved ones. Quite often, these violent tendencies take an addiction that requires treatment to a criminal court and subsequent prison sentence, so it’s crucial to take meaningful action.
When individuals work with a horse in a therapeutic setting, they immediately see how the horse reacts to their mood, tone of voice and body language. This kind of clear, honest and unbiased feedback helps the patients to identify which behaviors are hurtful and discover new and positive ways to assert themselves. The importance of trust and respect in all relationships is therefore reinforced.
Benefits of Equine Therapy in Addiction Treatment
Clients who have participated in equine therapy have gained important skills and values that can be carried over into their personal lives. Whether you’ve had a lifelong love of horses or have never had any contact at all, equine therapy offers several important benefits. They include:
- Improved ability to trust
- Greater sense of responsibility leadership skills
- Improved ability to form and maintain relationships
- Communication skills
- Educational skills
On the Trail to Recovery with Equine Therapy for Addiction
The physical, emotional and spiritual impact of addiction can be extensive. In order to reclaim your health and well-being and achieve lifelong sobriety, you need the right resources and support on your side. Since every individual is different and every addiction is different, the same process won’t be effective for each new client.
At the Beachway Therapy Center, we believe that an individually tailored comprehensive treatment plan should include different types of therapy, counseling and supportive group sessions to address the underlying mental and emotional issues that are behind the addiction. A holistic approach, which includes multi-faceted therapies and educational programs, offers patients the opportunity to take control of their lives by facing their troubles and overcoming their addiction.
For more information about our equine therapy for addiction program call us today at 877-284-0353. Located in beautiful South Florida, our top-rated facilities are in luxurious and peaceful surroundings.