Unbridled Healing: Equine Therapy as a Component of Teen Drug Rehab

Therapies like equine-assisted psychotherapy offer whole-person healing...

James Ekbatani
April 2, 2024

While the practice of holistic therapies has existed for centuries, only in recent years have practitioners begun incorporating more services geared toward healing the whole person into their treatment plans.

A complement to traditional therapies as part of a teen drug rehab program, holistic therapies can include physical exercise, mindfulness-based meditation, and spiritual and nutrition services to maintain long-term success by providing strong coping strategies. Some of the most common holistic therapies include yoga, guided meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, proper nutrition coaching, art therapy, and animal-assisted therapy.

Florence Nightingale reported using animal-assisted therapy in 1898, providing one of the first documented applications of this treatment. Boris Levinson produced the first formal presentation of animal-assisted therapy in 1962 after finding his dogs provided comfort to his clients as co-therapists. Horses were among the first domesticated animals to be used for medical treatment, with Hippocrates describing the benefits of hippotherapy (“therapy with the help of a horse”) for rehabilitation purposes in the second century.

Today, equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), also known as equine therapy, is increasing in popularity as a complementary strategy to traditional therapy with positive results. Recognized in the mental health community for its strong outcomes and growing body of research, more clients are turning to this experiential treatment for substance use and addiction.

How Equine Therapy Programs Work

EAP is a collaborative approach that includes the guidance of a licensed mental health professional and an equine specialist. Unlike riding or other horsemanship skills, EAP is therapeutic work conducted on the ground and centers around interactions and experiences with the horses.

Those in EAP often experience improvements in human functioning, including improved self-esteem, self-awareness, empathy, confidence, and coping strategies, as caring for horses requires concentration, selflessness, and teamwork. Further, it’s been found that those who didn’t respond well to more traditional methods of therapy often experience improvements through EAP. EAP programs can supplement a mental health treatment plan to provide healing for:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Grief
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Addiction
  • Eating disorders

There are a variety of EAP programs, as this type of therapy can be incorporated into mental health treatments, physical therapy, or occupational therapy regimens. For those seeking help with emotional or behavioral problems, clients work with specially trained horses while learning about caring for them rather than learning how to ride. With mental health treatments, EAP happens alongside cognitive behavioral therapy or experiential therapy.

In EAP, there is no riding or horsemanship, as all activities with the horses are unmounted. The mental health professional, equine specialist, and client work together on specific and deliberate activities involving the horses based on treatment goals.

A Therapeutic Connection – The Healing Power of Hooves

Working with horses as a form of therapy can empower life-changing outcomes. Interacting with horses in an emotionally safe, hands-on environment can help clients reach issues where traditional therapies leave off, becoming a metaphorical learning system.

EAP is a highly effective and unique approach for teens undergoing drug rehabilitation due to its profound impact on emotional and psychological well-being. The bond formed between humans and horses plays a pivotal role in this therapeutic process, offering a non-judgmental and intuitive connection that can be particularly transformative for teens.

Horses, being highly sensitive animals, mirror and respond to the emotional states of individuals, providing immediate and honest feedback. This dynamic interaction not only encourages self-awareness but also fosters a sense of responsibility and empathy in teens.

EAP can help teens experience emotional healing by:

  • Developing trust and communication through groundwork exercises
  • Learning responsibility and focus through horse care activities like grooming and feeding
  • Reflecting on metaphorical lessons for leadership, cooperation, and honesty from horse behavior
  • Expressing difficult feelings through creative activities like art or journaling in the barn environment
  • Building self-esteem through small accomplishments and embracing challenges instead of fearing failure
  • Applying lessons in empathy, boundaries, and nonverbal communication to human relationships
  • Gaining new coping skills and a renewed sense of purpose
  • Maintaining wellness through an alumni community and passion for caring for horses

Equine therapy creates an environment where communication and trust-building become paramount as teens learn to navigate through their struggles while developing essential life skills. The experience of working with horses in a supportive and compassionate setting can be a powerful catalyst for healing and personal growth, making it a suitable and beneficial component of drug rehabilitation programs for adolescents.

Equine Therapy Techniques in Residential Programs for Teens

Integrating EAP into residential programs for teens is a holistic approach to healing, emphasizing collaboration between therapists, counselors, and equine specialists. By combining traditional therapeutic methods with the unique benefits of interacting with horses, teens undergoing rehabilitation can experience a multifaceted and enriching recovery process.

The synergy between professionals from different fields ensures a comprehensive understanding of the client's needs, as personalized treatment plans can tailor EAP adolescent programs to each individual's specific goals and challenges. This innovative approach addresses potential obstacles and concerns, fostering a therapeutic environment, one that encourages emotional, physical, and psychological healing. EAP not only provides a novel and engaging aspect to rehabilitation but also underscores the importance of teamwork in achieving positive outcomes for teens on the path to recovery.

At Lotus Behavioral Health, our health professionals are committed to creating a nurturing and healing setting to foster a healthy lifestyle in teen clients. We provide a well-rounded, evidence-based approach to teen drug rehab that includes assessment, four distinct levels of teen behavioral health services, individualized treatment options, and more.

If you are a parent of a teenager with a substance use disorder, reach out to the Lotus Behavioral Health team for additional information on our services and the different levels of care we offer at our adolescent treatment facility. You can start the process by visiting our Admissions page, where you can view more information about a complimentary brief assessment to determine eligibility.

To learn more about navigating the challenging journey of addressing substance abuse issues with teenagers, contact Lotus Behavioral Health for an intake consultation at (833) 948-2273 or visit our website.