Addiction is a disease that touches every corner of society. It does not discriminate based on age, race, or social status. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), roughly 15.4% of all adult Americans struggle with a substance use disorder each year.
While there are many ways to treat addiction, one that is gaining popularity is equine-assisted therapy (EAT). EAT, also called equine therapy, uses horses to promote physical, mental, and emotional growth in patients. Royal Life Centers’ addiction offers EAT as one of the many evidence-based therapies we use to help you heal from addiction.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy is a type of experiential therapy that involves interacting with horses in a safe and supervised environment. When you participate in equine therapy sessions, you learn how to build trust. You also develop nonverbal communication skills, manage emotions, set boundaries, and overcome fears.
Equine therapy can be an incredibly powerful tool in addiction recovery. This is because it allows you to practice making healthy choices and managing difficult emotions in a safe space. Because horses are nonviolent and nonjudgmental creatures, they provide the perfect mirror for you to see yourself more clearly. Also, the relationship between you and the horse is built on trust. As a result, you learn how to trust yourself and others again.
What Happens During Equine Therapy?
Each horse therapy session is different and tailored to meet your individual needs in recovery. However, all sessions involve spending time with horses while under the supervision of a licensed therapist. You may be asked to groom or halter the horse, lead it around the arena, or play games with the horse. The therapist will use the interactions between you and the horse to guide discussion and help you process your thoughts and feelings.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy is also proven to help manage symptoms of mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders that often co-occur with substance use disorder. Throughout our equine groups, you will find that working with horses can provide many benefits during addiction treatment.
Benefits of equine therapy include:
- Lowers anxiety
- Decreases depression
- Reduces stress
- Improves self-awareness
- Increases self-esteem
- Cultivates trust
- Grows communication skills
- Enhances problem-solving skills
- Builds impulse control
Interacting with horses, whether through grooming or petting, can relieve stress and boost dopamine and endorphin levels. Likewise, horses don’t pass judgment and care only about how you act when you are around them. As a result, equine therapy can prove especially helpful in treating substance use disorder, a disease that is often strenuous in personal relationships.
Therapy With Horses
As a form of animal-assisted therapy, equine therapy introduces you to therapeutic interactions with horses. Horses are used in treatment for substance use disorders because they are able to mirror human actions and emotions. For this reason, equine-assisted therapy has become increasingly popular in the recovery field for this reason. Emotional reflection helps you to become aware of your own actions and emotions. These experiences not only help you feel recognized, but they also increase your self-awareness and help you alter any unhealthy forms of self-expression.
Because horses are prey animals, they are highly sensitive to their environment, making them especially responsive to human behaviors. Additionally, horses cannot react in the same ways that humans do, so you can build relationships with horses without fear of judgment or rejection. With the facilitation of one of our therapists, you will begin to work on healthier forms of self-expression and mindfulness. In turn, these interactions may become metaphors for past, current, and future relationships you have with the people in your life.
Biofeedback With Horses
Interestingly, equine-assisted therapy can be considered a form of biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback therapy is a mind-body technique that focuses on better controlling involuntary bodily responses. While traditional biofeedback sessions are held in a facility with monitors and wires tracking your physical reactions to stress, equine therapy tracks your emotional response through the horse’s reactions.
As a result, you can learn to better moderate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reduce negativity, limit dysfunctional thoughts, and enhance perceptions of positivity.
Equine Therapy Sessions at Royal Life Centers
Royal Life Centers offers equine-assisted therapy as part of our integrative approach to addiction treatment. Our therapist will lead guests through activities and ask questions— Why do you think the horse reacted a certain way in response to a particular action? How do you think you should reapproach the horse? These questions help to promote thoughtful discussion and consideration of guests’ outward expressions of emotions and feelings.
Our nationally accredited addiction treatment network includes multiple locations across the United States, each with its own unique setting and amenities. However, all of our locations offer access to world-class therapists who specialize in treating addiction with evidence-based therapies like equine therapy.
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