The therapeutic benefit of being around animals has long been known to anyone who has cared for and loved a pet. Whether that animal is a dog or a cat, or even a horse, the unconditional love and the selflessness they exhibit can be immensely healing. For drug addicts, the presence of animals during therapy is a growing trend. Another growing trend, especially for helping young addicts, is equine therapy. When addicts learn to care for and be responsible for horses, the results can be astounding.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine assisted therapy, or EAP, is a type of therapy conducted by trained professionals. They work with a patient and a horse to address the needs of the patient and his or her treatment goals. True equine therapy must involve a mental health professional and is not focused on riding or horse care skills. The focus of the program is on the patients and their healing from mental illness, addiction, or both.
EAP helps the patient by setting up situations with the horse that address skill development. This could include learning to improve non-verbal communication, being patient, building self-confidence and self-worth, being more assertive, solving problems and developing a more positive attitude. There is also the immeasurable benefit of being around an animal. Animals have long been used to help patients of all kinds feel more relaxed and stress-free and simply to brighten their spirits in the face of a major life challenge.
How Can Horses Heal Addicts?
Equine therapy for addicts is a more recent addiction to the world of animal-assisted therapy, but it is an exciting one. There are many ways in which horses can help addicts, particularly young people, heal from their disease. For young addicts, one of the most important lessons that can be learned from working with horses is responsibility. Some programs use horses to teach teen addicts how to care for another living thing. This sense of responsibility and a greater purpose can help a young addict replace addiction with something more important, more healthful and ultimately more valuable.
Caring for horses also helps addicts by building their self-confidence and their sense of worth and value. By learning to care for a horse, these addicts learn new skills that can be used in a real world setting. For many, it is the first time they feel a sense of purpose. This sense of knowing how to do something useful is a powerful tool for healing.
And of course there is the therapeutic healing that comes with communing with and relating to a magnificent animal like a horse. Developing a relationship and a connection with an animal and spending time in an outdoor environment benefit young addicts mentally and physically. Spending time with an animal like a horse brings calm and a sense of peace to a patient struggling with the stresses of addiction. Horse therapy is not a cure for addiction, but it is a powerful way to make treatment more effective for many young patients.
Anyone who knows animals knows how good it feels to be around them and to care for them. People have known this for centuries, but research is finally catching up. With horses, young addicts have an opportunity to heal by spending time with an animal they might normally not have access to. If more addicts had this tool at their disposal, many more would be helped.