Equine therapy can be a powerful tool for recovering addicts during the difficult rehabilitation process. By working with horses, we can experience a profound shift in the way we view our relationships with others, as well as with our own thoughts and emotions. Equine therapy is about more than just the relaxation of early morning horseback rides, it’s a way to reconnect with our deeper selves and overcome the psychological hurdles that resulted in addictive patterns of behavior.
What is Equine Therapy?
Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted psychotherapy, involves working closely with horses as part of a larger program designed to help recovering addicts with addressing their deep seeded psychological issues. Training, bonding with, and caring for a horse allows the patient to experience emotional growth and personal insight.
Individuals who are in recovery report many life changing benefits after working closely with horses, especially those who struggle with allowing themselves to become emotionally vulnerable with other people. An animal won’t judge you for your past mistakes and shortcomings, which makes equine therapy a wonderful addition to a larger rehabilitative course of treatment for patients who have struggled to make progress otherwise.
How Does Equine Therapy Work?
Equine-assisted therapy has gained momentum in recent years as an effective addiction treatment protocol. Therapy sessions are built around activities in which the patient must practice specific interpersonal skills such as: problem solving, patience, assertiveness, teamwork, positive body language, confidence, leadership, and relationship cultivation. Practicing these skills will benefit a patient beyond just overcoming their substance addiction. Many report that equine therapy has helped them overcome feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, depression, anxiety, and emotional isolation. Based on the results that we have seen, there is truly a special connection formed between a patient and their horse that allows them to unlock and tap into aspects of their personality that they may not have known existed.
The Benefits of Equine Therapy
There are a number of different reasons to consider working with horses as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program. Below, we’ve listed some of the greatest benefits of including equine therapy into your recovery process.
Learning Better Communication Skills
Horses may not be able to speak to us through words, but their ability to sense the intentions and feelings of those around them makes them amazing communicators. Years of substance abuse can cause recovering addicts to become emotionally distant and anxious during social situations, and it will take time and practice to relearn how to interact with others. By working closely with horses, you’ll gain a better understanding of your communication patterns, and how they can be improved.
Horses also serve as a sort of emotional mirror. If you approach them with fear or hesitation, they will inevitably become frightened. Greet them confidently and directly, on the other hand, and they’ll be put at ease.
Facing Your Fears
Horses, with their intimidating size and strength, can cause some people to become frightened. This reaction is completely normal and provides a powerful opportunity to overcome and transcend feelings of self-doubt and fear. You may be surprised at how quickly you rise to the challenge of closely interacting with such an imposing animal, and this newly found confidence can then be channeled towards other unaddressed fears and anxieties.
Years of addiction can leave recovering addicts with a sense of helplessness and vulnerability, but equine therapy offers the opportunity to reclaim the strength that was taken from you by drugs or alcohol.
Restore Feelings of Self-Worth
The lifestyle of an addict is not conducive to feelings of high self-esteem and pride. The individual in recovery will likely struggle with feelings of shame and worthlessness, after all, we all too often hear that addiction is the result of weak willpower and personal shortcomings. Equine therapy gives the recovering addict an opportunity to remind themselves that they possess a deep inner strength. By caring for and building trust with horses, patients can reaffirm within themselves that they can, in fact, have a positive influence on others.
Patients also benefit from the bond that they form with their therapy horse. We all have a deep-seeded desire to feel loved and appreciated, and many report that equine therapy helps to foster these positive emotions. By rekindling these feelings of self-worth and inner strength, the recovering addict will be better able to control their addictive impulses.
Building Trust With the Horses
Addicts frequently have a personal history that is fraught with abuse and mistreatment, both on a physical and emotional level. For this reason, they often struggle to build trusting relationships with others. By incorporating equine therapy into their course of addiction treatment, those in recovery can relearn how to trust those who may appear more powerful than themselves.
This beneficial change in outlook will eventually spread to other aspects of addiction therapy as well. By practicing trust building with a horse, those who may at first have been standoffish and distant with their counselors and therapists can learn to open up and become emotionally vulnerable. Your therapist can also use your experience of working with horses as a jumping-off point to work through various thought patterns that otherwise would remain unaddressed.
Learning the Importance of Boundary Setting
Unlike humans, horses aren’t shy when it comes to letting someone know when their personal boundaries have been crossed. If you approach a horse with aggression, they will quickly communicate with you that your behavior is not acceptable. Similarly, if you are too emotionally detached and distant, it will be a struggle to have the horse follow our commands. A recovering addict may struggle to set healthy personal boundaries, but through the close interactions with horses during equine therapy sessions, they can begin to internalize these valuable lessons.
While there is no replacement for the direct counseling of a certified addiction treatment specialist, equine therapy can be a wonderful addition to any comprehensive substance abuse rehabilitation program. To learn more about how you may benefit from equine therapy during the addiction healing process, don’t hesitate to contact us at The Dunes East Hampton today.
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