***Beginning Spring 2018, The Treehouse will be offering our own equine therapy program.***
Perhaps you’ve tried other, more conventional addiction treatment programs without the success that you anticipated, or maybe you’re looking at treatment programs for the first time and desire something that is a little more progressive. Regardless of the reason, you’ve come to the right place. At the The Treehouse, we approach treatment differently—our staff meets each client where they are on their specific journey, adapting our treatment methods to fit their individualized needs.
Whether you’re from Texas or beyond, our comprehensive and holistic care is designed to offer you or your loved one the highest caliber of care. Every one of our different treatment modalities works in partnership with the next. For those who desire something a little more off the beaten path, we are excited to offer you our equine therapy program.
The History Of Equine Therapy
Equine therapy, or therapy that involves horses, is also called equine-assisted psychotherapy. Contrary to what you might think, equine therapy does not necessarily incorporate riding the horse during the therapy sessions. However, at The Treehouse, we do offer on two occasions per month, a chance to enjoy the beautiful 40 acre landscape that surrounds us by engaging on trail riding excursions. This opportunity is open to those who don’t utilize our equine therapy program as well.
Equine therapy wasn’t always used for addiction. Originally, its roots stemmed from its applications in the mental health field. Previously, and to this day, equine therapy is used to treat other mental health and developmental disorders and instances of sustained trauma. Over time, it became evident that this dynamic treatment method held applications within the realm of addiction medicine. Paired with other treatment modalities, equine therapy has become a powerful tool for change within our program.
Understanding Equine Therapy
In order to better understand this form of therapy, first let’s take a moment to go over the premise of its root: psychotherapy. According to the American Psychological Association, “Psychotherapy is the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable.”
What is interesting in this context is that psychotherapy is often referred to as “talk-therapy.” Within equine therapy, you will indeed experience a powerful form of communication that is foundational to this method, however, this discourse will be with the therapy horse. The difference is that the communication will, in fact, be primarily non-verbal. Though it is true that your equine therapy sessions will be facilitated by a trained therapist, who will observe, direct and intercede at points within your sessions, the primary benefit will come from your time with the horse.
As the therapist witnesses your interactions with the horse, namely how you react to the horse’s behaviors, they will be able to develop a more clear idea of the areas that you may struggle with on a personal or interpersonal level.
You might wonder how this works. One study on this subject, “The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial,” speaks of this, noting that horses encourage a person to project and transfer their emotions and concerns, allowing the horse to essentially become a metaphor for the difficulties and situations the person is experiencing within their own life. This interaction gives the therapist a unique and unbiased venue by which to witness them.
The study elaborates on this concept, stating that “A client’s interpretation of a horse’s movements, behaviors, and reactions determines the meaning of the metaphor and, as such, provides a portal for the resolution of unfinished business.” The concept of unfinished business is a very powerful one within the life of a person who has struggled with an addiction. In most cases, when a person has a drug or alcohol addiction, they use the substance to self-medicate, instead of confronting the situation or emotions in their lives that may need resolution. Equine therapy provides an individual with a non-judgemental and proactive way to to accomplish this goal.
What Is The Horse’s Role Within Equine Therapy?
In the wild, horses are prey animals, meaning that within the food chain, they are the creatures being preyed upon or hunted. Due to this, they have very keen instincts that have been honed over centuries as a means to protect and give themselves an edge in the face of danger. Horses rely heavily on instinct and intuition. Their senses are constantly attuned to all that is around them, and are by far more sensitive than a human’s.
Horses use a specific organ within their nose to monitor their surroundings. This unique part of their physiology called a vomeronasal organ, allows them to sense minuscule changes in the air around them. In importance to our concerns, the horse is able to sense changes that result in humans on a physiological level when their mood or emotions shift. Essentially, they can smell your emotional state.
Because of this adaptation, it is very difficult to conceal anything from a horse. It has been said that being around a horse is like being around a mirror: they reflect. If you’re feeling anxious, fearful or sad, the horse will pick up on that and react. Their body language and demeanor might shift, giving you real-time feedback on the impact of your emotional state. This will also give you a greater understanding of the role that your emotional and mental state has on the people around you.
How Do You Interact With The Horse?
Some people may find it daunting to interact in such close proximity with a large animal. Horses are very gentle and patient creatures. Please be advised, we will never make you do something that you are uncomfortable with, and you will always be closely supervised by individuals who are highly trained and familiar with horses. Also, it is important for you to realize that you do not need any prior experience or training with horses to take part in this therapy.
During the course of The Treehouse’s equine therapy sessions, you will spend one-on-one time with the horse. You will have the opportunity to groom, feed and exercise the horse. Though simple, these activities are essential to the horse’s well-being, in a capacity that might remind you of the essential nature of your own self-care. It can be very empowering to be responsible for another creature’s welfare. Perhaps your addiction has depleted your self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Having an opportunity to be in control and in this silent communication with these gentle beasts, grants you an amazing opportunity to become more grounded and centered in who you are.
One article, originally published in the journal Women & Therapy, “Equine Psychotherapy: Worth More than Just a Horse Laugh,” speaks to how this therapeutic method may transform a person, stating that “Work with horses breaks through the client’s defensive barriers and requires the client to develop fresh insights and new perspectives from old relationship and behavioral patterns.”
As you break down these barriers, you will become more open to positive and affirming mindsets. You will gradually learn to work through the negative and damaging emotions that your addiction fed off of and learn valuable coping skills that will aid you in fighting them should they arise in the future.
A Positive Correlation Between Equine Therapy And Increased Mental States
Spending time with such insightful and steady creatures can work wonders towards a person’s mental state. The previously mentioned study found that “participants showed significant and stable reductions in overall psychological distress and enhancements in psychological well-being.”
Equine therapy will help you to:
- Learn to balance your exterior with what you are feeling internally, helping you on both a personal and interpersonal level
- Foster a sense of confidence and assertiveness
- Better understand the importance of boundaries
- Become more resilient and focused
- Learn critical non-verbal communication skills
- Feel connected and needed
- Banish negative emotions and foster positive emotional growth
- Relax and be present in the moment
The study’s researchers also found that participants experienced changes in their mentality that could be very beneficial for individuals who are struggling with both overcoming an addiction and having the bravery to begin a new life. Participants reported feeling “less burdened by regrets, guilt, and resentments” and “less focused on fears related to the future.” They also had increased measures of independence and self-sufficiency.
These things are all critical for a person who is grappling with letting go of negative emotions while trying to create a better environment for positive ones to grow. Substance abuse and addiction may have damaged your life in innumerable ways. It can be tempting to look back and berate yourself for the mistakes you made, an action that can be very detrimental to your state of mind and forward progress. Additionally, as you look forward in facing the unknown—the unfamiliarities of a sober life—you may be apprehensive or fearful. The resolution you achieve in these areas during your sessions can help you to overcome these thoughts and learn to be more mindful and present in the moment.
A Dynamic Tool In Dual Diagnosis Care
Due to its origins as a tool for addressing mental health needs, equine therapy holds the potential to be a valuable tool in treatment for co-occurring disorders. As a person works through their substance abuse, they need to also address any concurrent mental health disorders to maximize their chance at wellness. Equine therapy will allow you to address these needs alongside your substance abuse concerns so that you might work towards becoming a more whole person, body and mind.
Find Out More About This Moving And Impactful Therapeutic Method
Take control over your addiction. Look inwards and find the strength and perseverance that is necessary to obtain a drug-free life. You don’t have to do it alone; instead, allow The Treehouse and our compassionate equine therapy team—man and horse alike—to support and guide you through these tumultuous waters towards higher ground. You can find hope. You can become empowered. You can have an opportunity for greater happiness. Please, contact us and learn more about how, with our help, you have the power to transform your life.
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International) — Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy
Taylor & Francis Online — Equine Psychotherapy: Worth More than Just a Horse Laugh
Animals & Society Institute — The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial