Equine therapy is a form of therapy that uses horses to teach therapeutic lessons and encourage growth and wellness. While traditionally used with troubled youth, it has been found to have positive effects on dually diagnosed people. In recent years, equine therapy has become an evidenced based form of treatment for primary substance use disorders and dual diagnosis.
Dual diagnosis refers to a person who has a co-morbid mental health and substance use disorder. People who use drugs or alcohol are twice as likely to have depression and anxiety related disorders. People with untreated dual diagnosis also have higher rates of relapse.
People who treat one disorder and not the other are less likely to succeed in treatment. Examples of common dual diagnosis are Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder, depression and opiate dependency and attention deficit disorders and cocaine dependency.
Alcohol and drug use can be taken to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health disorders. Some people use to focus more, cope with depression, and deal with traumatic memories. For many dually diagnosed people, they may feel unable to cope with the mental health symptoms without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Benefits of equine therapy include increased confidence, increased self esteem, improved social skills and better impulse control. Equine therapy works well for people who have difficulty with traditional talk therapy. Talk therapy is formal, whereas equine therapy is outdoors and with less focus on traditional conversation. Equine therapy naturally encourages positive mental health and mindfulness.
In an equine session, a therapist is present to talk and guide. Time is spent grooming and walking the horse. What is so interesting about equine therapy is that it encourages experiential discussions. The therapist may challenge the client to make connections between their life and what they are observing in and around the horse.
Equine therapy teaches mindfulness. Mindfulness is a proven method for coping with cravings, anxiety and other symptoms. Mindfulness encourages awareness of your surroundings and regulation of emotions. Being around a horse will also encourage mindfulness by not startling the horse, being outdoors and taking care of the horses needs for gentleness and attention.
Equine therapy teaches an alternative coping method. Instead of self- medicating with substances when trauma or depression symptoms present, schedule an equine therapy session for a safe and unpressured place to process your feelings. Even if you do not talk, you are receiving benefits from the session.
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