When you have a substance-abusing teen, you want to find the best possible treatment available. After all, you want your child to live the happy, potential-packed life he or she deserves. Equine-assisted therapy – which involves the use of horses in a therapeutic environment – may be a very beneficial part of an alcohol and drug rehab treatment plan to get your teen on the path to recovery.
What Is Equine Therapy?
Equine-assisted therapy isn’t a new concept in mental health or addiction treatment. Therapists have used horses to help people overcome a range of serious conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). South Korean mental health professionals have begun using horse-assisted therapy to help children manage Internet addiction.
During a typical session, a trained therapist will lead your teen through activities that include feeding, grooming, haltering, or leading the horse. In some treatment programs, the teen may train or ride the horse.
How Equine Therapy Helps Mental Health
Mental health professionals have understood for some time that animals can play an important role in healing the human mind. Horses have generally not been used to study animal-human interactions during alcohol and drug rehab treatment, but other studies can provide insight into the benefits. In one study, researchers found that equine-assisted therapy decreased anxiety levels in violent patients. In addition, those patients showed greater improvement than a group that received therapy using dogs . This suggests that equine-assisted therapy can help alcoholics and addicts reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety that otherwise hamper recovery.
Working with horses in a therapeutic setting may also decrease overall psychological distress. A study of adults found that those who received equine-assisted therapy reported they were less burdened by regrets, resentment, and guilt as well as less focused on fears. Furthermore, patients reported the positive results immediately after treatment and during a 6-month follow-up .
Equine Therapy Benefits
Working with an animal outdoors can give teens a break from formal clinical setting of drug rehab. The change in environment helps an alcoholic or addicted teenager to relax, which is an important step toward building confidence and trust. In addition, the work will engage your adolescent in a healthy activity that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol. The physical work also allows teenagers to form positive habits that replace the habits and rituals of substance abuse.
Since the horses can’t care for themselves, the teen learns responsibility and discipline in caring for it. Your teen will learn how to care for the animal and be responsive to its moods in a positive way. This allows addicted teens to build the confidence that will help them interact in a healthier way with people, including their parents, siblings, teachers, and friends.
Another benefit to horse-assisted alcohol and drug rehab treatment is that teenagers appreciate that the animals don’t judge them. For teens who feel they’ve been judged by parents, teachers, and other adults this can be a powerful healing tool. The therapy allows a hurting teen to connect with another creature – one that won’t nag, scold, or reject.
Although the horse won’t judge an addicted teen like a human often will, it will react in a way that helps the addict learn about his or her own behavior. For example, if the teen is too rough with the animal, it will shy away. The therapist will use this opportunity to help your teenager understand why his actions caused the animal to react in a negative way. Your teen will learn to recognize the consequences of behavior that is aggressive, violent, or erratic. These insights help foster good communication skills. These skills will enable your teen to interact more effectively in normal settings, such as school or home.
Many teenagers find that the horse also acts as a friendly listener. Some addicts will share their fears and hopes with the animal because they feel they can’t share them with peers or adults. The therapist may encourage your child to practice telling his or her emotions and stories to the horse so it becomes easier for the teen to open up during formal therapy sessions.
Equine Therapy As Part Of Treatment
This therapy is versatile and may be used as part of an inpatient, outpatient, or aftercare rehab program. Depending on the facility, equine-assisted therapy can take place daily or several times each week. Your teen will work with horses specifically chosen for gentleness and even temperament. Treatment is often held in a small group setting, although a therapist may provide some one-on-one work during the sessions. Alcoholics and addicts are sometimes given quiet time to spend with the animal, so he or she can reflect on thoughts and emotions.
When searching for equine-assisted therapy for an addicted teen, seek a program lead by a licensed therapist with experience in this treatment. More colleges and universities have added equine therapy credentials to their mental health programs, so consider finding a therapist specifically licensed or certified for horse-assisted therapy.
Programs Used In Conjunction With Equine-Assisted Therapy
Working with horses is only one part of a comprehensive strategy for alcohol or drug rehab treatment. Teens are heavily influenced by their peers and environment, so inpatient care is highly recommended for the first stage of recovery. This allows the addict to live in an alcohol- or drug-free setting, which makes it easier to start the work of becoming abstinent. Family therapy is another component of recovery for many teens. A trained therapist will help family members identify and resolve conflicts as well as teach them how to help the addict maintain sobriety. An addictions specialist skilled in working with adolescents will recommend the best options for your specific situation.
Support groups are often used in conjunction with equine-assisted treatment and additional therapies. By connecting with other addicted teens, your child will find an invaluable source of support and guidance from peers.
Speak To A Rehab Treatment Team
Equine-assisted therapy may be the right therapeutic tool to help your teenager overcome addiction. Speak to your teen’s alcohol or drug rehab treatment team to learn more about how horses will help your child heal.
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