Can spending time with a horse help release some of the core issues associated with eating disorders? Some experts, like Gina Kolata, author of “Rethinking Thin,” believe so. Equine therapy has been used successfully for substance abuse addictions, and may soon enter the field of eating disorder treatments with a strong presence.
Because people with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder have learned to use food to escape from or avoid negative emotions, equine therapy may be successful because it helps restore their ability to connect to emotions. As an eating disorder progresses, the patient may lose the ability to even decipher that they are causing themselves dangerous, sometimes deadly, harm. Working with horses may help reconnect the patient to their emotional sensations and open channels to feelings that have been submerged, says a PsychCentral report.
Horses may be able to help a patient with an eating disorder experience and understand feelings like fear and avoidance, and then later, to relearn trust. Equine therapy is also presented in what many consider a non-intimidating environment and may seem more truthful to some patients than other forms of treatment.
Typical equine therapy involves a patient learning to groom, feed, train and care for the animal in a cooperative environment. Through the process, it is believed that patients with addictions or eating disorders can experience an atmosphere of non-judgment, because the animals are incapable of responding to factors like a person’s behaviors or their physical stature. As the animal accepts the patient without these conditions, the patient may begin to see themselves as worthy of their own acceptance – translating into new confidence and new hope, along with new patterns of eating.