Anyone who’s ever loved a pet knows that relationships with animals can be very satisfying. Horses are no exception. But in the right hands, horses can do much more than provide pleasure and a bonding experience. They can also be used in psychotherapy, allowing patients to work through their problems in unexpected ways.
Like standard psychotherapy, equine facilitated psychotherapy can be used for a wide variety of disorders, ranging from behavioral and mood disorders to substance abuse, trauma and psychotic disorders. There are certain elements that are common to both, such as taking a history, setting goals, and getting to know the patient. But equine facilitated therapy gives patients the opportunity to do something they can’t do in a therapist’s office. They get to ride, groom, lead or just stand next to a horse. For some, that can be a powerfully healing experience.
Something Else to Focus On
The difference between therapy in an office and therapy with a horse starts with the first visit. Often the time spent getting to know a patient is significantly reduced, according to Terry Lewis, LCSW-C, executive director of Great Strides Therapeutic Riding in Damascus, Md., who has practiced both types of therapy. When dealing with children and teens, a lot of them are there because their parents make them come. “It’s harder to get to know someone when they don’t want to be there,” she says. “Here, a lot of that is diffused because of the horse.”
One of the biggest attractions about this type of therapy is that patients want to do it. “Motivation is probably the most underrated aspect of treatment with horses,” says Maureen Vidrine, M.S., R.N., C.S., a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry who is also an advanced therapeutic riding instructor.
Lewis said that unlike her previous practice in an office setting, no-shows at Great Strides are rare. In fact, equine facilitated therapy often works for people who haven’t had success with other types of treatment. “I find that people who come to me have been to three different therapists,” says Lewis. “They don’t know what else to do.”
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Tags: disorders, horses, psychotherapy