If you’ve ever looked into a horse’s eyes and felt a deep connection, you’re not alone. It’s common for people to feel like a horse is empathizing with their emotions. Due to their gentle nature and heightened emotional awareness, horses make excellent therapy animals. For this reason, equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is a valuable, evidence-based treatment for individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.
Equine therapy helps individuals develop a sense of trust and understanding through gentle interactions with horses. EAT therapists can utilize the power that horses can have on an individual’s emotional state to help those in need.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy is a unique therapeutic approach that incorporates the use of horses during experiential activities that encourage treatment engagement, introspection, and mindfulness for personal growth.
When comparing equine therapy with behavioral therapy services, they may appear like complete opposites. After all, walking around a ranch or standing in a horse stall is very different from the typical office setting found in talk therapy sessions.
However, people with substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders often respond positively to the unconventional environment of equine therapy. Being in nature with a horse can help guests open up in ways they may struggle to achieve in traditional therapy. These outdoor activities can encourage individuals to shift their mindset to a creative and experiential perspective while interacting with horses.
During comprehensive treatment for addiction, guests can participate in therapy with horses alongside other evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In doing so, individuals can reframe their mindset and develop a strong sense of identity during treatment for addiction.
How Does Equine Therapy Work?
Essentially, equine therapy works by involving horses in the therapeutic process. Why is this effective? Horses, though giant, are gentle creatures with heightened emotional awareness and sensory processing. When guests interact with these animals, they experience relaxation, acceptance, and ultimate self-discovery.
One key reason why horses can prompt such results is because we perceive them to be non-judgmental but intelligent creatures. This encourages people to open up to the creatures — or rather, open up in front of them, as their therapist is also there listening in and can then direct the guest’s self-discovery to a deeper level. Caring for such large animals and their concrete needs requires bravery and vulnerability from guests, another benefit of the therapy.
As therapists guide individuals to lead and direct the horses, session attendees experience how their actions and emotions are responded to by the animals. Using a loud and aggressive tone will likely scare the horses and may not receive an obedient response. On the other hand, individuals who perform kind, confident instructions will encourage the horses to follow their lead. In this way, the cooperative nature of the horses lets individuals see themselves through the eyes of the animals to learn emotion regulation.
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What Can Equine Therapy Treat?
Equine-assisted therapy is a beneficial treatment for a wide range of disorders. The form of therapy is especially useful in treating addiction, mental health, and behavioral issues including:
People struggling with co-occurring disorders are within the range of individuals who may seriously benefit from equine therapy. In only a few sessions, they can experience the way equine therapy can lead to enhanced psychological, social, spiritual, and physical wellness.
What to Expect in Equine Therapy Sessions
Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is one of our many holistic therapy services that addresses a person as a whole and aims to assist in healing the mind, body, and spirit. During each therapy session, you will work with equine specialist counselors and horses trained and experienced in equine therapy exercises.
Equestrian therapy involves hands-on activities like grooming, petting, feeding, haltering, and leading the horses around enclosures. As you interact with and care for horses in therapy, these activities will engage your sense of touch, sight, and sound as you observe the impact of your actions on the animal’s behaviors. Often noted for their keen ability to read human emotions, horses provide insightful feedback on guests’ behaviors. This is because horses act as a mirror to feelings of fear, frustration, excitement, and self-confidence.
Before, during, and after each task, your therapist may ask you questions about what happened, what insights you received, and what behaviors or emotions the activity targeted, in addition to addressing any questions or concerns that may arise throughout treatment.
As you review your experiences during each session, you can become more mindful of your temperament and its effect on others. With a greater sense of self-awareness, you can learn to regulate your emotions and attune to the horse’s demeanor. In doing so, you will be able to develop trust and form a deep spiritual connection with the animal.
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If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, we hope you’ll begin your journey with us at Royal Life Centers.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
We offer equine-assisted therapy at Royal Life Centers because of its many benefits for a wide range of disorders. Although every person is different and requires a unique treatment plan, it’s for this very reason that horse therapy has such positive results. Some people succeed in outdoor environments that are more tactile than verbal, so engaging non-verbally with horses is like a breath of fresh air. For these individuals, equine-assisted therapy can assist them in ways that aren’t achievable in a typical therapy session.
Accordingly, the non-judgmental and unbiased reaction of the horses prompts guests to open up and experience personal growth and healing. Working with such large creatures carries a perceived risk, which encourages vulnerability management. Additionally, the act of leading and guiding horses elicits assertiveness and self-trust when the creatures respond positively. This process of “mirroring” that happens between the guest and the horse as they build a relationship leads to greater mindfulness and self-awareness.
Similarities have been drawn between equine therapy and biofeedback therapy, which uses sensors and electrodes to track one’s mental and physical processing on a screen. In the same way, that biofeedback lets people witness their body functions and how adjustments lead to change, participants in horse therapy can essentially do the same. In other words, they essentially watch themselves through the horses’ reactions and make real-time adjustments for different results.
Equine-Assisted Therapy at Royal Life Centers
At Royal Life Centers, we proudly provide complementary services such as horse-assisted therapy to help you heal from addiction. By combining this treatment with traditional therapies and medication management, we seek to help you achieve holistic growth. To support your recovery and overall well-being, equine-assisted activities build self-awareness, stress management, emotion regulation, and improved confidence.
When you enter our facilities, our clinical team will work with you to create an individual treatment plan. During this process, you can include equine therapy during the aftercare portion of treatment. By participating in therapy with horses, you can learn more about yourself and your relationship with others. During treatment, our team of experienced equine therapists will provide guidance and support to assist in your healing process.
At Royal Life Centers, you can experience the transformative power of equine-assisted therapy surrounded by Washington’s stunning mountainous landscapes. There is no better place than the beautiful Pacific Northwest to undergo therapy outdoors.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us about our treatment options, whether for yourself or a loved one. After calling or filling out a secure contact form, our admissions team will work with you to access individualized treatment for addiction.
Looking for a Equine-Assisted Therapy in Rehab?
If you or someone who cares about struggles with addiction, please reach out to us to find out more about how our equine therapy services can help. We work with most private insurance policies and we have affordable self-pay rates if you do not have insurance. Give us a call and we will figure out the best treatment plan for you or your loved one.
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