There are many different options for drug rehab treatment, including chemical detoxification, residential treatment programs, and behavioral therapy. Many individuals find equine therapy to be a very beneficial part of drug treatment when it comes to gaining control over their addiction.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy is the use of horses in a therapeutic setting. It helps promote emotional growth and personal development in the lives of individuals who may have lost sight of their priorities. This type of therapy has been effective in a variety of treatment scenarios for children, adolescents, and adults.
Individuals who participate in equine therapy while recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction often experience several life changing benefits. Working with horses is often just a small part of a comprehensive treatment plan. It is especially useful in treating people who have not shown improvement with other types of drug rehab treatment, such as therapy or counseling.
How Does Equine Therapy Work?
Equine therapy programs are becoming more and more common at various treatment centers around the world. The programs differ depending on the facility. They are often tailored to suit the unique needs of the individual patient. Individuals in a drug rehab treatment center typically spend time with a horse each day. They also continue working with their therapists and addiction counselors.
In equine therapy, the addict develops a relationship with the horse while tending to its basic needs. The horse’s needs include feeding, grooming, and exercise. Learning to saddle the horse may also part of the process. Many equine therapy programs do not include riding, however. This is because many of the horses used in equine therapy are either too old for regular riding or have suffered injuries that render them unrideable.
Therapeutic Use of Horses
Horses have been used to successfully improve the condition of patients with many different symptoms. As already mentioned, they play an important part of treatment at many drug rehab treatment centers. They have helped many individuals with addictions to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and other substances.
Equine therapy is often recommended for children with autism. It is also a very effective treatment for children and adolescents with conduct disorder and other types of behavioral problems. These gentle animals can be also very beneficial in the treatment of those suffering from depression, anxiety, dissociative symptoms, OCD, and even dementia.
Another common application of equine therapy is the treatment of individuals who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. This includes individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and may also include those with personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder.
Why Is Equine Therapy Effective?
Animals have proven their ability to soothe and relax sick patients on numerous occasions. Cats, dogs, and even dolphins have been used in many different cases to alleviate pain, improve mood, and / or reduce stress. Horses are very effective for all of those things.
In drug rehab treatment, equine therapy gives recovery addicts a new focus. By doing this, it helps them start replacing their former, unhealthy habits that led to and perpetuated their addiction. As the equine therapy program continues, addicts learn to take responsibility and maintain a regular schedule. An effective treatment plan will include counseling and other therapy techniques in addition to equine therapy. The combination will encourage patients to examine their lives, their actions, and their future. The ultimate goal is to enable them to grow as individuals.
Equine Therapy and Self-Worth
Many people who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction experience significant feelings of inadequacy and diminished self-confidence. Working with horses in a structured therapy setting can help boost their sense of confidence and self-worth. As they establish a relationship with the horse, it allows them to gain the horse’s trust and unconditional love. For many addicts, this is a very new experience – one that can be powerfully affirming. They often feel an incredible sense of accomplishment during their equine therapy sessions.
Many recovering addicts also find that they feel supported and needed by the horses as they work with them during their treatment. This new-found sense of personal value makes it easier to gain control over their addiction. Even if they already have that love and support from friends and family, equine therapy provides a fresh start. This can be very beneficial in helping them overcome the negative thoughts and feelings that have blocked their path to recovery in the past.
Equine Therapy and Behavior
Behavior management is often a key component in an effective drug and alcohol treatment plan. Both alcohol and drug addiction are frequently accompanied by aggressive or violent tendencies or behaviors. These often end up endangering the patient, as well as his or her loved ones. As addicts learn to communicate with and care for the horse, they will also have the opportunity to explore how the animal reacts to their different moods, vocal tones, and body language.
This "feedback" from the horse helps them distinguish between hurtful or harmful behaviors and acceptable ways of asserting themselves. This provides the perfect opportunity for lessons on the importance of trust and respect in a relationship, which are an important part of the therapeutic process. Personal reflection is also encouraged during equine therapy.
Equine Therapy and Addiction
The holistic approach of equine therapy has been very beneficial to patients struggling with all types of addiction. The responsibility of caring for a horse helps gives addicts a sense of purpose to their daily routine. Having a sense of purpose makes it much easier to let go of the drugs or alcohol that once filled their life. Bonding and communicating with the horse helps foster respect – both for themselves and for the animal. This unique relationship also soothes the patient, lowers stress levels, and eases the typical withdrawal symptoms that typically accompany drug and alcohol rehab.
Each year, more than 20 million Americans don’t receive the drug rehab treatment they need. Despite the fact that over 23 million addicts do receive treatment each year, many of these individuals fail to have a successful recovery. Equine therapy, as a natural, noninvasive treatment option, can help significantly improve that latter number.
Equine Therapy as Part of the Bigger Treatment Picture
Individuals who participate in a drug rehab treatment program that includes equine therapy receive many other services as well. Both residential and outpatient programs are available, depending on their individual needs.
Equine therapy sessions are conducted by a certified equine therapist. This individual guides the activities and interactions between the patient and the horse. For the best results, individuals undergoing treatment will also work with drug counselors and psychotherapists. Drug counseling and psychotherapy can help addicts understand the issues underlying their addiction, as well as what triggers them to use. They can use their sessions to reflect upon past decisions and learn new coping skills. Recovering addicts can continue in a positive direction while receiving the support they need to overcome the inevitable obstacles they’ll encounter on their path to recovery.
For many addicts, a drug rehab treatment center that includes an equine therapy program is one of the best choices for successful rehabilitation. The power of animals – particularly the graceful, gentle understanding found in horses – may be the key to helping them finally overcome their addiction once and for all.