Holistic treatment, which refers to addressing the entire person, not just the diagnosis or symptoms, has recently become popular for effective drug and alcohol recovery. This approach allows people to address imbalances of their minds, bodies, and souls. It also cultivates new interests and highlights the importance of fitness and nutrition. Holistic therapies are used to help those battling addiction. Treatment may include mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, and adventure therapy.
One holistic therapy gaining popularity at treatment centers is animal-assisted therapy. This involves using horses, dogs, cats, and other creatures to help reduce stress and work through issues that are often associated with addiction. Equine therapy, informally known as horse therapy, is a practice that uses interactions with horses and trained staff, allowing a person to make meaningful connections and learn skills for lasting sobriety.
What is Equine Assisted Therapy?
Potential clients often wonder if a horse can be therapeutic for them. For someone that has never been around horses, it can be very intimidating. After all, they are so powerful that a car’s engine is measured in “horsepower.” These are huge creatures that can weigh over 2,000 pounds. When some people think of horses, they probably have images of rodeos and brave cowboys being thrown from the bucking broncos. To the uninitiated, horses can be scary. Those who have spent time with horses, however, know another side of these sensitive, responsive creatures.
So, what makes a horse therapeutic? The answer lies in the rich history of human and horse relations.
Horses are animals of prey. In other words, they are sought by other animals to be captured, hunted, or eaten. A horse’s predators include coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions.
Because of this, horses learned to constantly be aware of everything in their environment. Their brains are wired to be ultra-observant for their own survival. By soaking in all of the sensory input around them, they have an intuitive sense of changes that may cause them danger. This increased awareness allows them to perceive and react to nearby humans. In fact, a horse can detect a human’s heartbeat from four feet away
Another way horses protect themselves from predators is by gathering in herds. Instead of having one limited set of eyes, a herd of horses has multiple views of their environment. As a member of a herd, horses develop socialization skills and roles which allow them to identify and communicate nearby dangers.
Horses and humans have worked together for centuries. Domesticated horses played a key role in our ancestors’ transportation, hauling, and military needs. The generations of human and horse relations have given these powerful creatures instinctive abilities to sense and interact intimately with humans. In fact, they have an uncanny ability to sense a person’s mood and behavioral changes.
Have you ever had a pet that seemed to know when you were having a bad day? Maybe they were more affectionate and cuddled up to you more than usual. Think of a horse as a one-ton pet that is even better at detecting and responding to your emotions.
Equine therapy uses the ingrained socialization skills of a horse in conjunction with a trained therapist to guide the session. Activities like grooming, riding, or walking with a horse are combined with psychotherapy techniques. While a person interacts with the horse, the therapist might try a role-playing or social skills activity. At the end of the session, experiences and insights are processed to see how they can be transferred to other areas of the person’s life.
Using Equine-Assisted Therapy to Treat Drug and Alcohol Addiction
People struggling with drug or alcohol addiction often become so absorbed in getting their next “high” that their once-meaningful relationships begin to deteriorate. The disease of addiction leads them indulge in increasingly selfish behaviors to get the fleeting pleasure of their drug of choice.
Sadly, in the grips of addiction, many people become so self-involved that they fail to cultivate and practice interpersonal skills that are essential for meaningful relationships. For example, if someone has an argument with their significant other, they may lash out aggressively or abusively instead of using assertive communication.
In addition, individuals suffering with addiction may isolate themselves or develop superficial relationships based solely on the interest of their drug of choice. Instead of reaching out to their family and friends, they seek the comfort of drugs or alcohol.
Equine therapy helps those struggling with addiction in a variety of ways. One of the most notable benefits is developing relational and social skills. This is made possible because a horse’s highly evolved sensitivity allows it to respond naturally and authentically during human contact. They have the keen insight to mimic our behaviors and interactions. For example, if you feel very nervous and uncomfortable around a horse at first, it may respond to you in a similar fashion. The therapist leading the equine-assisted therapy may then talk about ways to decrease fear and anxiety. As you practice these approaches, you and the horse will begin to develop a rapport.
For those who have been hurt or mistreated by others, horses provide genuine social experiences. Horses don’t lie or manipulate. They want to create a connection with you as long as you are willing. With each session, your relationship with the horse strengthens. You get out of the self-absorbed behavior patterns and relearn the power of empathy. Therapists guide interactions and discuss how each session can be transferred to experiences with friends and family.
Integrating therapy with horses and other animals has been shown to increase a person’s self-efficacy even six months after treatment. This renewed belief in one’s ability to succeed is critical for those starting recovery. If you believe you have skills to reach your goals, you are much more likely to continue treatment and stay focused on your sobriety in the long term.
Other Uses for Equine Therapy (PTSD, Anxiety, and Other Mental Illnesses)
Equine-assisted therapy isn’t limited only to people who are battling addiction. In fact, it has proven beneficial to those dealing with other physical, mental, and emotional issues. Because those struggling with addiction often have other underlying problems, much like those treated using dual-diagnosis therapy, this can make equine therapy an even more desirable treatment option.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), equine therapy can be used as therapy for several conditions. For example, working with horses may also help those struggling with trauma, abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, people with physical problems have found that riding horses is a great way to improve muscle tone, core strength, and posture. In a holistic approach, a variety of challenges in a client’s life can be addressed, resulting in an increased likelihood of success.
Horses and Their Therapy Benefits
The benefits of equine therapy often depend on an individual’s needs and preferences. While working with a therapist, you can discover the areas of your life that need improvement and how working with a horse can help you achieve these goals. Here are just a few benefits therapy can provide to those struggling with addiction:
- Decreasing isolation: Addiction can destroy once-happy relationships with friends and family. As these relationships deteriorate, drug use often increases, leading to isolation. The unconditional acceptance of horses during treatment can renew a person’s sense of belonging.
- Challenging fear: Horses are large, powerful animals. Initial interactions can be very intimidating. As a person works through their fear and discovers the joys of being with these magnificent creatures, he or she learns to tackle other fearful experiences in life.
- Impulse control: Those struggling with addiction often succumb to their various impulses to get immediate gratification. Working with a horse, however, requires patience, emotion regulation, and self-control. By being able to control their behaviors, those in recovery have a better chance at keeping their addictive impulses at bay.
- Assertiveness: Horses want to cooperate with you during activities. They do, however, need clear and effective communication to understand what you need them to do. Assertive communication skills are crucial for those in recovery as a means to express needs and desires.
- Self-confidence: Successful interactions with a horse help a person’s confidence and self-esteem. After all, you’re learning a new skill and accomplishing goals. This new ability to take on challenges easily transfers to other areas of life.
- Setting boundaries: Negative past relationships often skew a person’s perception of boundaries. As you develop a respectful relationship with a horse, you can learn skills to develop more effective boundaries with other people.
Working with a horse offers many life skills that are important to sobriety and your general well-being. When used in conjunction with traditional therapy, the benefits can be even more powerful.
Using Equine-Assisted Therapy Programs with Traditional Therapy
Like other holistic therapies, equine therapy in drug rehab is most effective when used with traditional psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Dealing with addiction is not easy. When you have a team of professionals at your side, you have the opportunity to be empowered by a variety of tools to help with your challenges and struggles.
Traditional therapy sets a framework for your addiction recovery. It starts with a thorough assessment process where professionals learn all about you and any possible roots of your addiction to drugs or alcohol. These insights allow you and your therapist an opportunity to set and prioritize goals for your individualized treatment. When there is a plan in place to address specific skills during therapy, it provides more effective treatment.
For example, if you were the victim of abuse as a child, you may have difficulty trusting other people. When someone wants to interact with you, you may suspect they always have bad intentions. This skewed perspective may prevent you from pursuing relationships with people who genuinely want to get to know you. Interactions with a therapy horse may give you a chance to let your guard down and realize the potential for positive relationships
In addition, the comfort of being around a horse may make it easier to talk with a therapist about your prior abuse or other struggles. This can lead to breakthroughs and different perspectives of how your thoughts and actions might be shaping your current situation.
Is Equine Therapy Available Near Me in Scottsdale, Arizona?
Are you interested in equine-assisted therapies? Do you live in the Scottsdale, Arizona area? Would Arizona’s unique scenery provide a welcome backdrop for your recovery? If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and want to find a holistic treatment center that incorporates equine therapy, the drug rehab facility at Pinnacle Peak Recovery can help.
Located in Arizona’s scenic Sonoran Desert, Pinnacle Peak Recovery offers a respite from the daily stressors and triggers that can distract you from recovery. We offer a full continuum of care, and your personalized treatment is based on your individual needs.
At Pinnacle Peak Recovery, we believe treatment needs to be engaging and fulfilling to be effective. In addition to intensive individual, group, and family therapy sessions, we offer access to amazing horses who have helped many other people battle addiction. This is just one of the many exciting experiential opportunities available to encourage self-growth and a pursuit of healthy leisure activities.
If you live near the Scottsdale, Arizona area or feel that a change of scenery is the inspiration you need to finally embrace sobriety, our program is ready to help.
Get Started Today for a Better Tomorrow
There are lots of excuses for avoiding treatment. Some people fear the unknown and would rather cling to their routine, even if it is self-destructive. Others worry about being away from family or work. Sadly, making excuses is often part of the disease of addiction.
Instead of thinking of reasons to delay getting help, consider taking the first brave step in living the sober life you deserve. Change isn’t easy, and treatment can be challenging. The benefits of finally getting treatment, however, far outweigh the detriments of continuing a life of abusing drugs or alcohol.
Pinnacle Peak Recovery is dedicated to making your treatment a comfortable, life-changing experience. A simple call to 480-787-2409 can help you discover our many available treatment options and amenities. Feel free to call anytime of the day or night. Take that courageous initial leap and start your change now.