Equine Therapy Helps Addicts Recover
Drug treatment centers across the country are galloping to the closest stables with their clients to partake in equine therapy sessions as a way to help addicts through the recovery process. During therapy sessions, addicts are able to use relationships with the horses as a way to channel many of their thoughts and emotions into positive actions rather than resorted to using drugs or alcohol.
Unlike people, horses don’t harbor ulterior motives and pose no threat to anyone, which is something that an addict desperately needs on the road to recovery. Horses offer addicts the unique ability to simply be themselves, warts and all, which is not something that most are used to in every day life.
“They are just being horses. People look at them and they don’t see them as threatening,” said equine therapist Dale Phillips. “Horses do what is natural to them and that is survival. When people are struggling with addiction, that is kind of the mode they are in, they are trying to survive. Substance abuse overrides everything else in their lives.”
There’s no judgment when a client is interacting with a horse, either. And a lack of judgment to an addict most often leads to a much sought after feeling of acceptance and with that comes the ability to work through some of the roadblocks that are driving forces behind the disease.
“Horses live in the moment, a skill people with addiction need,” said addiction counselor, Jessica Hofer. “They have the same range of feelings that we do, and they have good days and bad days. They don’t like to be alone; they are safe in a herd. And they don’t have ulterior motives, they don’t care if you are wealthy or poor, what your last name is or how many times you’ve been to treatment.”
Hard Work Ahead
There isn’t an easy pass during equine therapy, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as addicts are challenged to fight off the compulsion to manipulate situations and utilize as many of their other skills as possible. Many have a hard to releasing the manipulative mindset since it worked so well for them while trying to hide their disease and when attempting to score drugs.
Hofer understands this unique challenge very well thanks to her own struggle with addiction. She said, “The program is based on natural horsemanship, the horses are doing things with the clients that comes naturally. I have clients ask to give the horse a treat to get the horse to come to them, but there are no bribes. As addicts, we are master manipulators and use bribes to get people to do what we want. But here, you have to use verbal and nonverbal communications to get the horse to do what you want.”
As a result, clients have a brand new toolbox at their disposal that makes it easier to tap into different parts of themselves while learning to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. The boundaries are then supported by other newly obtained tools that make it possible to communicate effectively and recognize emotions in a productive way.