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    Research Downloads

    A Growing Body of Evidence Supporting Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

    Nearly half of all combat veterans suffer from serious psychological disorders and reintegration issues. Veterans shy away from typical talk therapy and are seeking alternative treatments. Equine-facilitated mental health therapy has shown promise in treating veterans with depressive and anxiety disorders and reintegration issues. This article reports on an institutional review board–approved pilot program designed to address the mental health needs of veterans. Furthermore, this article discusses future directions for evolving development of equine treatment programming.

    Psychosocial Equine Program for Veterans

    The increased prevalence of reported eating disorders, in conjunction with their potentially fatal consequences, is a current mental health concern. Development and maintenance of body image, weight, and concerns around eating often stem from individuals’ various relational and cultural environments. We provide a discussion of Gestalt equine-assisted psychotherapy as a creative relational approach to eating disorder treatment and introduce a case example that illustrates the use and benefits of equine-assisted therapy with clients who have an eating disorder. A brief overview of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition diagnostic terms and criteria is also included.

    Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy as a Creative Relational Approach to Treating Eating Disorders

    Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is an experiential modality which utilizes horses to provide a unique learning experience for personal growth. Research by Damon et al. (Appl Dev Sci 7:119–128,2003) suggests a positive relationship between hope and positive developmental trajectories. Hagen et al. (Am J Orthopsychiatr 75:211–219,2005) showed hope to be a protective factor associated with adaptive functioning in at-risk youth. Ashby et al. (J Couns Dev 89:131–139,2011) found a significant inverse relationship between hope and depression: as hope increases, depression decreases. The current study investigates the impact of a non-riding EAL curriculum entitled L.A.S.S.O. (Leading Adolescents to Successful School Outcomes) on levels of hope and depression in at-risk youth. The study uses an experimental design with longitudinal, repeated measures. Participants were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Participants in the treatment received 5 weeks of EAL, while participants in the control group received treatment as usual. Repeated measures ANOVA of participants’ levels of hope and depression showed statistically significant improvements in the treatment group as compared with the control group. Even a brief (5-week) intervention of EAL had a positive impact on the lives and attitudes of at-risk adolescents, with increased levels of hope and decreased levels of depression.

    The Impact of Equine-Assisted Learning on Levels of Hope and Depression

    Abstract: Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is an approach in which horses are an integral part of the therapeutic process. This article provides an overview of EAP, including a brief historical perspective, key definitions, and review of pertinent literature. Benefits of the approach are presented, from the standpoint of field observations, client self-reports, and formal research articles. Rather than offer a comprehensive literature review, this article is intended to help non-EAP practitioners become more familiar with the approach.

    Equine Assisted Psychotherapy in Clinical Practice

    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

    Despite an increasing number of studies, there is still a lack of knowledge about the unique features that underlie the process in equine assisted social work (EASW). This study aimed to reveal, through qualitative methods, the dyads within the triad that become stronger during the process of EASW, as well as the effect of the participation of the horse on the relationship between the counselor and client. Data were collected through in-depth interviews with nine female self-harming clients aged 15–21 years and eight staff members. The interviews, together with video-recorded human-horse interactions with three staff members and four clients were analyzed, resulting in additional issues answered by these three staff members and four clients in a second interview. Critical dialogues between patterns and fragmentations in the narratives and video-recordings, as well as a dialogue with the participants while they were viewing videos of their own EASW sessions, led to the conclusion that adding a horse qualitatively changes therapeutic relationships in EASW. The different triads consist of different liaisons between actors in the triad, giving rise to unique combinations. The quality of the relationships depends on both the staff and the clients’ attachment orientations. Further research is needed to investigate how the degree of emotional connection to the horse affects the impact that horses have on triads in EASW.

    Triads in Equine Therapy