The emotional connection made by interacting with animals can be beneficial in the treatment of a variety mental health issues, including substance use disorder (SUD). More and more facilities are allowing patients to bring their pets to treatment during inpatient care, and some are integrating animal-assisted therapies into their overall care programs. Among myriad other related research, a recent study on the use of animals in residential drug treatment settings provided markedly favorable outcomes. One of the increasingly common ways that animal-assisted treatment modalities have been brought to bear in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction is through equine-assisted therapy.
EAT is a technique that uses horses to treat psychological problems in humans. It is administered at farmlike specialty facilities as part of a larger comprehensive treatment plan alongside techniques like group therapy, individualized counseling, and other supplemental therapies. EAT practitioners must be licensed to use this treatment model. The process is different from therapeutic horseback riding and involves techniques like walking horses around an enclosed area, petting them, grooming them, feeding them, and simply being around them. The process is meant to foster empathy, responsibility, and calm and has become a widely accepted form of occupational therapy for both physical and psychological conditions, also used by the United States military.
Prolonged and untreated substance use can create a variety of immediate and long-term physical and psychological health issues. Equine therapy yields a variety of physical and psychological benefits that can aid participants in their long-term withdrawal, including but not limited to:
In addition to SUD, EAT has also been found to be effective in the treatment of autism, phobias, nervousness, stress disorders, cerebral palsy, cerebral trauma, sensory and speech issues, Down syndrome, COPD, asthma, and many other physical conditions.
Multiple domestic and international studies have outlined the success of EAT in mental health treatment. A study from the University of Central Florida indicates that equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) has done well not only in assisting typical clients, but also with clients that have had trouble in traditional modes of therapy. Another collaborative study by Norway’s University of Life Sciences and University of Oslo and the University of Utrecht found that EAT improves self-esteem and self-efficacy, which can be crucial during the more difficult stages of long-term recovery. EAT has proven effective in the treatment of both adult and juvenile patients as well.
More and more treatment facilities are integrating EAT into their care programs; however, these options are primarily available through private organizations. Like other types of supplemental therapies, your insurance plan may help to cover the cost of EAT. Coverage is contingent upon type of insurance plan. Integrating EAT into your addiction treatment plan can strengthen your emotional awareness, improve your sense of personhood and responsibility, and guide you toward mature and empathetic decision-making as you endeavor to move forward in your recovery. To learn more about whether or not the treatment center you’re considering offers EAT, contact their admissions team directly.
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