Equine therapy is an effective approach to treating substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many others. It’s common for individuals struggling with addiction to experience feelings of low self-esteem, and many have a difficult time trusting themselves and others.
Equine-assisted therapy can help them work through their emotions and experience vulnerability in a supported, healthy environment. This is because horses tend to be sensitive to someone’s feelings and their behavior towards someone will be based on what they can sense from a person.
What is Equine Assisted Therapy?
Equine assisted therapy sessions incorporate horses into mental health therapy and addiction treatment. The idea is that when individuals engage in grooming, feeding, caring for, and leading a horse, they also build self-confidence, trust, communication, and emotional regulation.
It is also known as horse therapy or equestrian therapy.
Benefits of Equine Therapy for Addiction Treatment
Equine-assisted therapy is frequently used to help individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. The equine therapy benefits include the below:
Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it causes brain function to slow down. The result is that the brain over time will become used to keeping your system alert and functioning in a heightened state for an extended period of time.
When someone then stops drinking alcohol, the alcohol levels suddenly drop, and the nervous system continues to operate in an overactive state – this is what causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Self-esteem and Confidence
Taking care of a horse has a lot of responsibilities associated with it. This type of caretaking helps individuals have more faith in themselves to try new things in life and tend to their own needs in a healthy way.
When working with horses, communication is important in order to direct the horse to do what you need it to do. But this doesn’t just include using words, it also involves non-verbal communication (such as body language), which is equally important in daily life when engaging with others.
Many people with drug addiction have difficulty trusting themselves and others. Horses can help them rebuild that trust.
Emotional and Self-Regulation
Being able to regulate emotions is an important part of navigating life. Many individuals who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction can benefit from learning how to better regulate their emotions rather than immediately responding to everything they feel. Equine therapy requires individuals to think about their behavior before responding to the horse’s behavior.
Equine therapy can also help with impulse control, improve social skills, and overall personal growth. When individuals can regulate their emotions, have greater self-esteem, communicate effectively, and trust themselves as well as others, they will be less inclined to rely on drugs or alcohol to cope with life’s stressors.
History of Equine Therapy
While the term equine therapy might be relatively new, people have been working with horses for their emotional and therapeutic benefits for decades. Innovative drug rehab facilities have also been incorporating horses into their therapeutic programming and mental health treatment plan for years.
How Equine Therapy Works
Horses are naturally very aware and sensitive to people’s emotions. Therefore, they tend to react and respond based on what the individual is feeling/showing them. This helps individuals working with the horses to adjust their behavior and be vulnerable to their emotions. For example, a horse will be hesitant around someone who is hostile and guarded. But if the individual can let their guard down and speak to the horse in a kind manner, the horse is more likely to allow the person to groom them.
Horses also show unconditional love in many ways and don’t judge individuals based on their past, previous life choices, or appearances. For someone who is working through drug addiction, this can teach them self-forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion.
Equine therapy always includes a licensed mental health professional who specializes as an equine therapist/equine specialist.
Types of Equine Therapy
There are several types of equine therapy, all of which involve horses:
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): This type of therapy includes the professional help of licensed mental healthcare providers.
Equine Assisted Learning Therapy (EAL): EAL therapy has the purpose of helping individuals learn self-awareness, communication, and trust.
Hippotherapy: This type of therapy focuses on speech therapy and physical therapy. It is less commonly used for those who have drug addictions.
Equine Therapy for Co-Occurring Disorders & Mental Health
Co-occurring disorders often accompany drug addiction and can include anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and many others. While talk therapy is a very important type of treatment to address co-occurring disorders, equine therapy can also be effective when combined with individual therapy.
Start Treatment Today at Malibu Detox
At Malibu Detox, our equine therapy serves as a catalyst for overcoming drug addiction and achieving long-term sustainable sobriety and recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, we’re here to help. We accept most major and private insurance plans and work with you to minimize out-of-pocket expenses.