Finding a method that would motivate adults to stay in substance abuse treatment programs long enough is a problem solved by Equine Therapy (also known as Horse-Assisted Therapy, or HAT). In Equine Therapy, horses represent metaphorical experiences to stimulate emotional growth, which is vital in recovery from drug addiction. It has been proven to assist clients in developing the following skills: confidence, self-efficacy, self-concept, communication, trust, perspective, decreased isolation, self-acceptance, impulse control, social skills, boundaries, spiritual connection, and more. Each client’s interaction with the horse allows a trained therapist to observe their behavior, emotional reaction and thought patterns in order to establish healthy relationships with themselves, friends, and family.

The Role of Horses in Addiction Treatment

Horses play an important role in addiction treatment due to their keen sensitivity to changes in a person’s emotional and mental state. The therapist studies a horse’s behavioral reactions to the client’s moods and gleans information from the human-horse interactions. Comparable to a mirror, a horse’s reaction reflects a person’s depressed or calm state of being, exposing emotions that the person may or may not intentionally show. A horse’s behavior thus helps the client gain self-awareness and establishes trust, because most patients perceive horses as non-judgmental and inviting. During these interactions, the client’s guards are down, allowing for transparency which helps the therapist gain insight into the individual’s state of being. The positive therapeutic alliance between the horse and the human being improves the outcome of treatment goals. Equine-assisted activities address the following:

Scientific Support for Equine Therapy

According to a study published in The Practitioner Scholar: Journal of Counseling and Professional Psychology, women who received equine-assisted therapy reported great boosts of self-esteem and self-realization, which enabled them to terminate toxic relationships. Growing research has been published in the Psychiatric Times and Journal of American Medical Association about the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy, which has been used to treat patients with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD), dissociative disorders, substance abuse disorders and other chronic illnesses.

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