Equine – Assisted Psychotherapy

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The notion that contact with animals has several benefits for human beings is becoming widespread. When used as therapy,it can take several forms: physical, cognitive and even social and emotional. The most common therapy is done with horses, donkeys or dogs.

Equine – assisted psychotherapy is a rapidly developing form of therapy that shows very promising results in a short amount of time. This type of therapy with horses is different from other more frequent forms because all of the work is done on the ground (there is no horseback riding involved) and no equestrian skills are needed.

By interacting with horses , due to the fact that they are large animals, we are creating a natural opportunity to overcome fears and build confidence. This allows the patient to obtain quick results with long-lasting effects through the use of metaphors that relate the experiences obtained through therapy to real life situations.

Also, horses demand physical and mental involvement and obtaining success in the exercises that therapy requires, can only be done with a strong sense of commitment. These characteristics are extremely valuable for everyone’s life.

Horses are extremely sensitive to our nonverbal behavior and they respond instantly to the stimuli they are presented with. Their responses will supply the therapeutic team and the patient with information on the current behavioral patterns and promote a change to new patterns.

This is generally a very brief form of therapy, with horses assisting people through metaphors with real life situations, obtaining answers through reflection on the different problems in their lives. The therapeutic team consists of horse(s), a mental health technician and an equestrian specialist, guaranteeing emotional and physical safety for all those involved. Due to its characteristics, this model can be applied to individual or group sessions and to all ages (families, companies, institutions, etc). A number of different aspects can be approached like self-esteem, conflict, emotions, communication, limits, addiction, attention/focus, grief, creativity, group dynamics and social interaction, among others. Specific problems addressed by this therapy include: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc), self-harm behavior, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, among many others.

Above all else, this therapy model allows for the development of self-knowledge and promotes change very effectively.

Author: Inês Sousa, clinical psychologist and animal-assisted technician


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