Equine Assisted Therapy & Its Role In Drug Addiction Treatment
Drug addiction is perpetuated by the human ability to hide self-truth. Once hooked, the addict manipulates and lies to both himself and others, in order to continue addictive behaviors. Long time addicts become adept at the use of half-truths to maintain their harmful lifestyles.
Emotional Exposure Poses Greater Risk than Addictive Behavior
When treating addiction, the therapist is initially faced with the challenge of bringing the addicted person out of their castle of lies, and exposing true emotion to themselves and others. Ongoing recovery must involve the addict’s admission that he is experiencing addiction. Treatment can only progress in step-wise fashion. If this cannot be accomplished, the patient may become resistant to therapy, leading to fruitless treatment outcomes.
Risks the addict must take, in order to expose addictive issues, often cannot be initiated in the context of human interaction. Fear of reprisal or lack of acceptance can prove to be strong inhibitors of psychological wellness. This factor does not change in a therapeutic setting.
Horses Provide an Emotional Bridge
The emotional issues associated with addiction can be many and varied, including:
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Lack of character development, including integrity
- Lack of trust in relationships
- Disrespectful behavior or aggression towards others
- Lack of self-worth
- Depression and anxiety
- Traumatic life experiences
- Potential relapse
The ease of developing a relationship with a living thing that is not human, allows the addict to display a more open emotional dynamic, which can be observed and analyzed by a therapeutic caregiver.
Horses are inherently gentle and able to develop special bonds with humans. Equine characteristics of strength, patience and intelligence are ideally suited to candid interactions with emotionally disturbed individuals. As prey animals, horses can effectively read human emotion and respond to it in ways that can reveal dysfunctional behaviors to a watching psychotherapeutic professional.
Horses interact socially with each other in groups (herds), causing them to display “pecking order” behaviors, much like those exhibited by humans. Equine assisted therapy clients may project these behaviors onto their own social functioning, by interpreting them to a trained observer, who can then metaphorically analyze this information.
History and Methodology of Equine Assisted Therapy
The practice of equine assisted therapy is still in its infancy, first becoming a professionally utilized method of psychotherapy during the 1990s. Eating disorders and addiction are psychiatric issues that have been successfully addressed using horses as a “mirror to the soul.”
Therapeutic use of horses does not involve mounting or riding. Observing both spontaneous and planned interaction between clients and horses is accomplished by equine specialists in cooperation with trained equine therapists. The patient is asked to perform day-to-day tasks associated with animal care and training, including feeding, grooming, catching and leading.
Peter Wendt is a writer & researcher living in Austin, Texas. When his brother began his battle with substance addiction, Wendt researched every method of recovery possible. He found the Equine Assisted Therapy Program at Origins Recovery, a drug rehabilitation center in Texas, to be of particular interest.