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Substance use disorder, which is more colloquially known as drug addiction, is a serious mental...
The focus of this group, led by a licensed mental health professional, includes both psycho-education and experiential clinical therapy interventions related to issues of relationship, intimacy, and trust through Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP).
Equine facilitated psychotherapy is a mental health therapy involving equine interactions (interactions between horses and a human participant) that may also be referred to as equine-assisted therapy, equestrian therapy, equine psychotherapy, or simply equine therapy.
Though modern equine facilitated psychotherapy for mental health issues and related cognitive disability dates back to the 1990s, horse therapy sessions as physical therapy and occupational therapy for movement disorders like cerebral palsy and spina bifida dates back to the 1960s.
Equine facilitated therapy was also used as part of the treatment process for military veterans injured during World War I. Other forms of equine-assisted psychotherapy date back even further, as evidenced by references the Ancient Greeks made to using horse riding and other activities with horses to provide “hippotherapy.”
The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (which eventually became PATH International) was founded in 1969, and the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy was founded in 1971. The Horses and Humans Research Foundation was also founded in 2002 to study therapeutic horseback riding and other therapeutic activities involving horses.
Equine facilitated psychotherapy is usually provided by a licensed mental health professional like a certified therapeutic riding instructor, either as part of their private practice or through another organization. It may be suitable for individuals with developmental disabilities, cognitive disorders, mood disorders, and intellectual disabilities as well as those who struggle with substance abuse.
While someone with a narrow understanding of equine-assisted psychotherapy may imagine only therapeutic riding, a variety of other equine-assisted activities incorporating horses may be utilized to help teen and adult clients in equine-facilitated therapy. These include interactive vaulting, therapeutic driving, and the use of horses to facilitate equine-assisted growth through psychoeducational training provided by equine specialists, which may have more in common with play therapy than with conventional therapeutic riding.
For instance, in the psycho-educational portion of Reco’s equine facilitated psychotherapy group, clients are given information on relationships and dysfunction in building relationships based on the idea of attachment theory as they relate to issues of trauma and addiction. Clients will focus specifically on issues of secure/insecure attachment, the brain and relationships, and the nature of equine facilitated psychotherapy as it relates to relationship issues in real time.
The equine facilitated psychotherapy practice consists of grounding and relaxation practices and working to solve simple tasks with equine partners (horses). In turn, the client learns how to address boundary issues, to calm assertiveness, and to combat stress and emphasize trust in relationships.
EFP is a proven therapeutic tool in addiction recovery. By nature, horses are particularly sensitive to changes in a human’s emotional state, and are extremely perceptive of interactions. If a client is nervous, horses will respond appropriately to this with their actions and body language, providing both the equine specialist and the individual with greater insight into their emotions throughout recovery.
The mental health professional can observe the changes in the horse’s behavior and help point out the changes in the horses to the client, which in turn can lead to equine facilitated personal growth and self-awareness as clients learn to appreciate the effect their emotions have on another sentient being.
Because an equine partner can reflect a client’s emotions back to them while still keeping the therapeutic environment a safe space because of their nonjudgmental nature, horses are a uniquely powerful addition to any clinical practice. For similar reasons, work with horses has also become popular in corporate leadership development and personal development settings as well as therapeutic setting.
While equine facilitated psychotherapy alone is unlikely to help a patient to overcome addiction, when combined with other mental health services and appropriate medical treatment, using horses as complementary medicine can have many positive effects.
A certified member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, our Equine Specialist has nearly 20 years of experience with equines. Through the practice of EFP, our certified equine specialist guides clients in their relationships with horses, providing them with the necessary tools to create coping strategies. As they immerse themselves in EFP, clients gain a renewed understanding of self and enhanced self-awareness, with the horses leading the way.
To learn more about how a mental health therapist can uses horses to help you or your loved one break free from addiction or about what else you can expect from Reco Intensive’s comprehensive treatment program, feel free to call us anytime at 844.955.3042 or to contact us online anytime here. There’s no time like the present to get back on the road to a better life and brighter future.
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