Equine-Assisted Counseling: What it is and Why it Works

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What is it?

Equine-Assisted Counseling, also known as Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy, is one of the most innovative therapies being developed today. This type of therapy is characterized by using an equine, usually a full-sized horse, as a tool to encourage emotional growth within the psychotherapy session. A therapist or counselor still guides the session, where the client and horse interact on the ground. The client will often be asked to complete tasks with the horse, such as catching and haltering, or getting the horse to step over a pole on the ground without touching the horse.

Does it work?

While there is little research on Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy, the results that we have are very promising. A study conducted in 2006 studied at-risk youth who had been a witness to family violence. Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy was used over an 18 month period. The participants were assessed using the Scores on the Children's Global Assessment of Functioning Scale, and assessments were made pre-therapy and post-therapy. The results concluded that the Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy had a statistically significant and positive impact on the emotional functioning of the participants (Schultz, Remick‐Barlow, & Robbins, 2007). Another study conducted in 2007 utilized Equine-Assisted Therapy to test its effects on a mixed population. The study used psychological measures pre-therapy, immediately post-therapy, and 6 months post-therapy (Klontz, Bivens, Leinart, & Klontz, 2007). The study concluded that the Equine-Assisted Therapy aided in the dramatic effects of reduced psychological distress and increased psychological well-being among the patients (Klontz, Bivens, Leinart, & Klontz, 2007).

Why does it work?

The idea behind Equine-Assisted Counseling is using the equine to engage the client in an indirect way, in order to reduce stress and anxiety. Horses are also prey animals, that will give a visual and honest reaction to the emotion or behavior the client is presenting. The tasks given to the client to complete are designed to bring about specific emotional issues that give the client the opportunity to work through them on a smaller scale. The horse mirroring reactions gives the client the opportunity to see themselves in an objective way, and to reflect on their behavior and/or emotions during the task. This is immensely helpful to aid in self-actualization, and to create the opportunity to eliminate the false truths clients hold about themselves.

Who can benefit from this type of therapy?

While everyone should be able to benefit from Equine-Assisted Counseling, it can be extremely helpful for clients suffering from post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, and anger issues. In reality, everyone is struggling with something. If you like horses, and would consider and unconventional form of therapy, Equine-Assisted Counseling might be for you.

References:

Schultz, P. N., Remick‐Barlow, G., & Robbins, L. (2007). Equine‐assisted psychotherapy: A mental health promotion/intervention modality for children who have experienced intra‐family violence. Health & Social Care in the Community, 15(3), 265-271.

Klontz, B. T., Bivens, A., Leinart, D., & Klontz, T. (2007). The effectiveness of equine-assisted experiential therapy: Results of an open clinical trial. Society & Animals, 15(3), 257-267.

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