Generally speaking, just about everyone has a basic understanding of what addiction is and how it occurs: It’s a physical and psychological dependency that occurs after a prolonged period of habitual substance abuse. However, the disease of addiction is also highly variable, affecting each individual in a very specific way. Not everyone who develops an addiction is affected exactly the same. The effects that each addict experiences are dependent on their individual circumstances, including the substance to which they became addicted, the length of time spent in active addiction, and so on.
The reason that the high degree of variability regarding how addicts develop and experience addiction is important is because a disease that affects each individual so differently should hypothetically be very difficult to treat. How can you treat a disease when everyone who suffers from the disease experiences different symptoms? However, addiction treatment programs allow individuals to personalize an addiction treatment curriculum with the therapies that best address each addict’s recovery needs. While psychotherapy and group sessions serve as the basis of the majority of addiction treatment programs, many facilities offer variety of supplemental and complementary treatments that allow for a more personal rehabilitation experience. One of the many supplemental treatments is equine therapy, which will be discussed below with a particular emphasis on the role that equine therapy can play in the addiction treatment process.
What Exactly is Equine Therapy?
In short, equine therapy is a therapeutic approach in which individuals work with and tend to horses on a daily basis, serving to help them rebuild or learn responsibility as well as inspire personal, emotional growth. Relative to other therapeutic techniques, equine therapy is unique because it is a form of experiential therapy, which means that it’s a form of treatment that address an individual’s mental and emotional needs while engaging them in physical experiences or activities. When participating in equine therapy, patients will learn to groom and feed horses as well as haltering and leading. Additionally, equine therapy is often implemented by a mental health professional with thorough knowledge of working with horses, otherwise this form of treatment would require both a mental health professional and a horse professional working together.
Whereas more conventional forms of psychotherapy involve discussion and “talk therapy,” during equine therapy the therapist or therapists observe patients, taking note of how they interact with the horses as well as any manifestations of negative thought patterns, behaviors, or emotions. Therefore, a core tenet of equine therapy is that a patient’s interactions with the horse are symbolic or metaphorical to a degree and somewhat representative of his or her inner state.One of the greatest benefits of equine therapy to patients is that it helps them to learn accountability and responsibility, self-confidence, self-control, patience, and it hones their problem-solving skills. Moreover, equine therapy has proven to be an effective tool for helping individuals learn to control their impulses and urges, improve empathy and emotional awareness, teaches social responsibility and etiquette, encourages individuals to be more considerate and compassionate, improves assertiveness, and even helps individuals learn better socialization and relationship-building skills.
How Equine Therapy is Beneficial for Addiction Recovery
Though some might consider it an unconventional treatment for addiction and substance abuse, equine therapy has become an increasingly popular offering of many upscale and luxury rehabilitation facilities as well as those with a more holistic approach to recovery. In long-term studies of individuals who received equine therapy for mental disorders, there was a noticeable reduction in psychological distress and stress levels with individuals reporting an overall reduction in their symptoms, which is highly beneficial among recovering addicts since stress remains a very common relapse trigger. Additionally, individuals who received equine therapy have reported being more present in the here-and-now and less fixated on the past or their past experiences. Recipients of equine therapy also show a reduction in feelings of guilt and shame, which are frequent catalysts for relapse as well.
There have been many theories that have attempted to explain how or why equine therapy can be an effective treatment for substance abuse and other mental disorders. A well-known phenomenon is a tendency for interactions with pets and animals to have a soothing, calming, and relaxing effect on those who are unwell, which is considered to be a factor. However, it’s thought that equine therapy is effective because it gives recovering addicts a new focus, are a means of learning to take responsibility, and encourages individuals to develop a positive routine.
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Equine therapy may not be the ideal treatment for everyone, but many individuals have experienced a reduction in overall symptoms after participating in equine therapy. However, there is a variety of effective treatments available for those in need. If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about addiction treatment and recovery, call Recovery Hub today at 1-888-220-4352. With a free consultation or assessment, you or your loved one can begin the journey of recovery.