Traditional types of therapy are often paired with alternative therapies or modalities that give you tools that can help you manage your mental health symptoms. For example, animals can be used in alternative therapies to help you work on social skills, practice mindfulness, and develop meaningful connections. Dogs are commonly used as pet companions in psychological treatments, but other animals can be used to produce similar effects. For example, using horses in equine therapy can help you heal physically, mentally, and emotionally.
History of Pet Companions in Therapy
Using animals for emotional support, comfort, and psychological and physical healing dates back to 5 BC. Nurse Florence Nightingale noted in 1898 the health benefits of animals for people confined to their homes due to terrible illness. During the 1960s, Boris Levinson studied animal-assisted therapy by conducting therapy sessions with his dog present. He found that this caused his child patients to be more relaxed and led to a formal understanding of animal-assisted therapy that is used today. Since then, animal-assisted therapy studies have been conducted with several different animals, including cats, dogs, and horses.
Equine therapy research became increasingly popular after World War I. It was proven effective in helping veterans with shell shock, which we now know as PTSD. In 2019 there were reportedly 4,800 certified therapeutic riding instructors and 881 therapeutic riding centers globally. However, even though equine-assisted activities are not new, there is still a lack of rules and regulations that define equine-assisted activities. The Professional Association of Horsemanship International (PATH) provides subcategories of equine-assisted activities, which include Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT), equine-facilitated learning, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, hippotherapy, Interactive vaulting, therapeutic arriving, and therapeutic riding.
The Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy
Animal-assisted therapy can improve a traditional treatment program by giving you extra support along your recovery journey. Some benefits of animal-assisted therapy include the following:
- Decrease cortisol (stress hormone)
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase feelings of social support
- Reduce loneliness
- Boost in mood
Studies have been conducted on animals’ effects on psychiatric patients, people with Alzheimer’s, elderly loneliness, and patients struggling with AIDs. These studies suggest that having a pet or being exposed to animals for as little as 30 minutes daily can improve your overall physical and mental health. In addition, animal-assisted therapy can complement traditional treatment by helping you improve on and practice the emotional management skill you learn in therapy.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Many different types of Equine therapy focus on developing various kinds of physical and mental skills, such as:
- Social skills
- Balance and posture
- Leadership skills
- Gross motor skills
- Impulse control skills
- Confidence building
During specific Equine therapy sessions, you might go horseback riding to help with stress reduction and increase mindfulness. Other types of Equine therapy might involve taking care of horses or simply interacting with them.
Horses recognize and respond to human emotions and can help you be more aware of how your actions and emotions affect others. Riding a horse can give you a sense of control as the horse will look up to you for guidance. Having an animal who needs you can build your confidence and teach you responsibility.
Who Is Equine Therapy For?
Equine therapy has been used to treat the following mental health disorders:
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention-deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
- Depressive Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
- Substance Use Disorders (SUD)
- Schizophrenic Disorders
Horses are associated with positive, freeing feelings like empowerment, spirituality, and justice. This can cause a person to feel a sense of hopefulness and positivity when they are around horses.
Human-to-animal bonds can make you feel supported, protected, and loved. Animals love you unconditionally and can provide you with an uncomplicated, positive relationship. Researchers believe that establishing positive relationships with horses is effective because they are herd animals who desire communication and bonding with other members of the herd.
Horses also provide a safe and non-judgemental source of comfort. You can trust that a horse won’t tell your secrets or betray your trust. Seeking friendship with a horse may appear to be a lower risk than with another person. Horses can teach you relationship skills you can use in your relationships with others.
Is Equine Therapy for Me?
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for substance use or other mental health disorders. Equine therapy may help or may not suit you along your recovery journey. There might be a different alternative therapy that you find more rewarding, calming, and helpful. But you won’t know how Equine Therapy can benefit you until you try it. Equine therapy and other alternative treatments are not meant to replace more traditional treatments but be complementary to them. Alternative treatments can give you techniques that will help you exhibit healthy behaviors and thought patterns in your day-to-day life.
Equine therapy and other animal-assisted therapy could help you manage your substance use symptoms, establish trusting relationships, and find peace and relaxation on your recovery journey. Restoration Recovery Center offers Equine therapy and other alternative modalities, such as skiing and hiking. Our staff doesn’t see you as a number but as a person. As a person, we know that you need to explore as many types of treatment as possible before finding one that works for you. So, if you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, please call (888) 290-0925 to learn how we can help you achieve long-term sobriety through treatments that focus on the body, mind, and spirit.