Mental health problems include a wide variety of vexing problems that significantly affect the quality of life of many individuals and their families. Fortunately, much progress has been made in the understanding and treatment of these problems. A wide variety of effective therapies are now available to the psychological heal profession for treating the many disorders and conditions that affect many.
One of the most promising and interesting approaches is equine therapy (ET). In this form of treatment, patients are paired with horses in order to achieve successful resolution of their problems. In many cases, this form of therapy is offered at residential treatment centers. In other cases, it is facilitated individually between a patient and their therapist.
What is Equine Therapy?
The principal purpose of a therapeutic methodology is to treat mental and physical problems that affect individuals, bring these problems to a successful conclusion and increase the quality of life in these patients. Equine Assisted Therapy is a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between patients and horses.
For centuries, people have been aware of the positive effects that interactions with horses have had on human moods and well being. The ancient Greeks were knowledgeable about it and termed it “hippotherapy” (from the Greek, “hippo”, meaning “horse”). In the mid-1900s, therapeutic riding was used to treat polio and certain mental health problems. Since then, it has become much more studied, systemized and prescribed by health professionals in the last few decades. The name “Equine therapy” is derived from the Latin, “Equus”, which translates to “horse” in English.
Issues Treated with Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) in Michigan
Studies have indicated that many people beset by various mental and physical problems can benefit from EAT. Those who have been helped range from young children to older adults. The following conditions and issues have been successfully treated using Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP):
- Drug and alcohol addiction abuse
- Eating disorders
- Learning difficulties
- Mood disorders
- Cerebral palsy
- Bipolar syndrome
Equine Therapy Benefits
For people with low self-esteem and problems interacting socially, EAS can initiate dramatic improvements. For some, it is easier to develop a successful relationship with a horse than another human. Through the relationship with a horse, such people improve their self-respect and confidence.
For those afflicted with autism, cerebral palsy and other conditions that affect motor skills, the physical interaction of working with horses can exercise the major muscles of their bodies, improve balance and as help tune fine motor skills. Some of these patients don’t even know they are “in therapy” and the results are often spectacular.
Bipolar disorder can be a particularly thorny problem and is treatable using EAS. As one patient described, “I feel a connection to the horse, and it’s something special. It does calm me down.” That patient’s heathcare professional explains: Being around horses can help people that have difficulty dealing with anxiety, particularly people who have anxiety related to the stigma that goes along with being viewed as different.”
According to U.S. News and World Report, even a problem as vexing as alcohol abuse can be treated using EAS. In a stunning example of equine therapy benefits, by slowly bonding with a horse in a pasture next to the therapy center, one chronic alcohol abuser was able to build off that trusting relationship to free himself from the shackles of abuse.
How Does Equine Assisted Therapy (EAS) Work and Help?
Horses have a natural ability to detect and even relate to human need and emotions. This is true despite the fact that they are non-judgmental and unbiased. This is the fundamental base upon which Equine Therapy is built upon.
The particular horses selected for therapeutic work demonstrate high degrees of patience, perception, and gentleness. Therapeutic horses may be full-sized animals or smaller ponies. They are specially selected to be able to put people at ease in their presence.
The actual therapy generally involves a patient, a therapist and a therapeutic horse. A whole range of interactions may be prescribed, depending upon the nature of the patient’s issues. In some cases, EAT commences with low levels of patient-horse interaction, such as grooming, petting and feeding. Increasing levels of interaction may involve leading the horse with or without the help of a trainer or therapist. In some cases, the actual riding of the horse is part of the protocol.
One study found that the psychological distress experienced by patients was reduced immediately following EAT therapy. Indeed, those patients improved psychological well being lasting for a six-month period.
So what is equine therapy from a scientific perspective? Although EAT effectiveness has been well documented by numerous studies, the exact science behind the effectiveness of EAT is poorly understood. According to Alexi Smith-Osborne of the University of Texas at Arlington, “The mechanism of action hasn’t been well established for equine-assisted therapies with relation to non-physiological, non-mobility activities.” From a practical perspective, however, it is apparent that many patients receive a variety of feedback responses from the horse. These responses may help alter their neural networks in a positive and healing manner.
Considerations for Caregivers and Potential Patients
Patients and caregivers interested in this type of therapy need to be aware of several potential hazards that may come into play. Perhaps the most important of these is that most horses are larger and stronger than humans. Their very stature alone may be a concern for some people or caregivers. Although generally very adaptable with people, they are, nonetheless, animals whose actions cannot be 100 percent predictable.
Additionally, some people can have allergic reactions to horses, or to hay and pollen in their barns and corrals. Patients with known allergies should consult with their healthcare professionals when considering ET.
How To Find Equine Therapy Near Oakland County, MI
Given the tremendous benefits of EAS, many people may wonder “Is there equine therapy near me?” Bright Pine Behavioral Health, conveniently located in northern Oakland County, Michigan, sets the standard for superior service and excellence in compassionate and effective care.
They offer treatment plans for a wide variety of therapy issues, including ADHD, Autism, bipolar, depression, self-harming and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others. In addition to EAS, they also provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), play therapy, as well as a variety of group and family therapies.
If you’re interested or have questions about Equine Assisted Therapy. Please contact our Equine Assisted Therapist and specialist Sara Rietsch LPC.