Equine therapy (use of horses in therapy) was originally intended to assist with those that were physically handicapped or mentally challenged. The intended purpose was to facilitate positive self-esteem in the afflicted as well as reducing shame while providing positive self-affirmation. However, over the past few decades, studies have shown that the same core problems that most addicts suffer from are the same issues that equine therapy for handicapped persons addressed. Therefore, equine therapy has begun to be utilized in the treatment for addicts. Equine therapists are licensed mental health professionals that utilize horses in helping to shift the mindset of the addicts. Different modalities of equine therapy vary. “These include, but are not limited to skill development, task mastery, reflection on the horse’s behavior, and reflection on client interactions with the horse. Because the horse has no agenda, they use their basic and natural instincts in interacting with each other and when interacting with people” (Cody, Steiker & Szmandera, p. 200).
Equine therapists begin their work by introducing the client together with the horse for a bonding experience under the watchful eye of the therapist. The horse will either “connect” with the client or avoid the client, based on the clients’ confidence and self-esteem. Usually, addicts carry secrets about their lives, build emotional walls up around them, stuff feelings and are disconnected from their “true self”. These are all issues addressed in regular psychotherapy and the horses, being able to pick up on these character defects, react accordingly. It is difficult to assess the success rate as this is a newer type of treatment option and “we just don’t have the research yet to make these statements (of effectiveness)” (Cody, Steiker & Szmandera, p. 199). Also, it should be noted that equine therapy is usually a method used in conjunction with other treatment modalities, some of which are discussed here. Usually, residential and outpatient treatment centers provide equine therapy as a supportive service to their clients.
by Chris Sobel, BHT Primary Therapist
Chris has been part of the Prescott House team since 2005 and an active member in the recovery community in Prescott since 2002. In his work with each client, he brings forthrightness, inspiring life experience, and a commitment to helping men recover from addiction. Chris has many passions including golf and NY Mets baseball, and – most importantly – spending time with his wife and two daughters.
Chris is also an amazing cook! Try some of his recipes: Easy Posole | Watermelon Salad
*Cody, P., Steiker, L. H., & Szymandera, M. L. (2011). Equine therapy: Substance abusers’ “healing through horses.”. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 11(2), 198-204.
— Photo courtesy of http://heroes.horse/ —An Equine Assisted Learning/Therapy Program that creates a safe physical and emotional environment for partnership with the Equine Herd.