Equine-Assisted Therapy: Not Only For Addictions Facilities

As seen in 28 Days, a movie addressed a couple days ago on this blog, equine-assisted therapy can be used to help addicts in recovery. In addition, it also helps people with various other types of disorders, physical as well as mental.

One certified Equine-Assisted Psychotherapist, Camille Matthews, offers “5 Reasons Horses Make Good Psychotherapists“:

  1. Horses have the qualities clients want in a therapist. These include having authenticity, being open communicators, being perceptive and attuned, and being able to mirror others.
  2. Horses set ground rules for respect. “Horses have individual personalities like humans and horse herds and groupings operate according to complicated social relationships and interactions based on clear rules about power, physical boundaries and personal space.”
  3. Horses have problems too. For example, they experience “anger, jealousy, impatience and possessiveness. Most clients find it uncomfortable to acknowledge such problems directly, and being able to observe and reflect on the horse allows the client to identify and discuss these problems without defensiveness.”
  4. Horses deal in natural consequences. “If we don’t get it right, they don’t get it done.”
  5. Horses make therapy fun. They allow clients “to be playful, to think outside the box, let go of shame, blame and self-consciousness and get to work finding creative solutions.”

An article (in the addictions magazine Counselor) written by another certified Equine-Assisted Psychotherapist, Nancy Jarrell, is more personal. Here’s one of the things that makes equine-assisted therapy special to her:

I always tell my participants that they can’t do anything wrong in my sessions; how they show up with the horse is how they show up in the world…Sometimes simply asking a client to walk a horse will reveal that person’s pattern of behavior in relationships. If I see someone staring at the horse the entire time they walk him in a circle, I might ask who they feel the need to check up on. Their responses may be, ‘my mother, my husband, my son, etc.’ From there, I can invite them to practice new behavior — walking the horse again, eyes forward, head up; looking in the direction they are going. This provides intervention on dependency issues, and practice in letting go of control in relationships. The result is consistently a more relaxed walk with the horse, and a more effective mutual relationship. This can provide the client with insight into how attempts to control will result in more energy being expended with poor results.

Finally, in the words of mental health and addictions writer John Lee: “Equine assisted therapy leaves no room for intellectualization. You feel, you react – and you reveal. And just as it shows to a trained therapist the truth of your character, it can also help those in recovery to understand their true natures, and face more head-on some of the real obstacles to emotional growth and recovery.”

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