The inclusion of horse-assisted therapy (HAT) in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is rarely reported. Our previous studies show improved treatment retention and the importance of the patient–horse relationship. This qualitative study used thematic analysis, within a social constructionist framework, to explore how eight patients experienced contextual aspects of HAT’s contribution to their SUD treatment. Participants described HAT as a “break from usual treatment”. However, four interrelated aspects of this experience, namely “change of focus”, “activity”, “identity”, and “motivation,” suggest HAT is more than just a break from usual SUD treatment. The stable environment is portrayed as a context where participants could construct a positive self: one which is useful, responsible, and accepted; more fundamentally, a different self from the “patient/self” receiving treatment for a problem.
The implications extend well beyond animal-assisted or other adjunct therapies. Their relevance to broader SUD policy and treatment practices warrants further study.
How Substance Use Disorder Patients Experience the Stable Environment in Horse-Assisted Therapy