Maintaining a lasting recovery is about more than simply refraining from the use of addictive substances. It’s about finding healthy ways to manage stress, process your emotions, and communicate with others, so you’re no longer relying on drugs or alcohol as a “crutch” to temporarily escape from your troubles. Mountain Laurel Recovery Center’s Pennsylvania residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment program helps clients develop the foundation for a lasting recovery with intensive individual, group, and family counseling accompanied by various holistic treatments encouraging the development of wellness-focused lifestyle habits. One of the newest additions to our program is equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP).
Our EAP services are offered in partnership with Kerry Nelson, who is an Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) Certified EAP provider. This program runs three times per week for 90-minute sessions and is available to all, with special tracks for our veteran/first responder and chronic relapse population.
Why Horses Can Help People With Addiction
The history of equine-assisted psychotherapy can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who first noticed that people who were struggling to manage their emotions seemed calmer and happier after they spent time interacting with horses. They hypothesized that the contrast between the formidable appearance of the horse and the animal’s gentle yet accepting nature helped people build the confidence they needed to improve their mental health. The Greek physician Hippocrates, commonly referred to as the “Father of Medicine,” was a noted advocate of the therapeutic benefits of being around horses.
In the United States, equine-assisted psychotherapy has grown steadily in popularity since the 1950s and 1960s. Today, EAP providers note that horses are known to react to body language and mirror the moods of their caretakers. Each animal also has a distinct personality—which is conducive to the bonding experience that is the goal of a therapy session. Whether the horse is shy, stubborn, or genuinely affectionate, learning how to connect provides a sense of accomplishment while offering non-judgmental insight into any potentially negative behaviors that might be hindering a person’s ability to communicate with their friends and family.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy is sometimes referred to as equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-assisted counseling. The more general term of equine-assisted therapy also incorporates equine-assisted occupational therapy for people with various physical disabilities, injuries, or impairments.
Benefits of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy
Research continues into the benefits of equine-assisted psychotherapy, although the majority of the existing studies demonstrate clear benefits for individuals struggling with substance abuse and mental health. Some of the benefits that have been reported include:
- Increased self-image and self-worth
- Improved communication skills, especially in regards to non-verbal communication
- Stronger emotional management
- A better understanding of how to set healthy boundaries
- A chance to practice using grounding techniques to manage anxiety and mindfulness practices to cope with stress
- Making progress in efforts to heal from past trauma
- Enhanced feelings of empathy and connection
What to Expect During EAP
Equine-assisted psychotherapy is a form of experiential therapy, which means it is a chance to develop skills in a hands-on environment. Art and music therapy are the best-known examples of experiential therapy, but EAP continues to grow in popularity.
You may be a good candidate for EAP if you’ve found it difficult to open up in traditional talk therapy sessions. People who find it difficult to talk about painful experiences in their past or who tend to become angry and frustrated easily often find that a hands-on approach is particularly useful in their recovery journey. However, anyone who is open to learning from the process can benefit from EAP.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have past experience with horses to benefit from this type of addiction recovery support. In fact, EAP sessions take place on the ground and focus on connecting to the horse as a social animal. You may be asked to walk with, talk to, or help care for the horse while applying the lessons you’ve learned during your treatment about healthy communication, expressing emotion, and building strong relationships.
We’re Here to Help
Everyone’s recovery journey is unique, and it’s normal if it takes some time to find a treatment approach that fits your needs. Even if you’ve recently relapsed, there’s always hope for a brighter future. Contact our admissions team today for a confidential consultation.