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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious condition that requires treatment. Fortunately, increasing knowledge regarding the disorder has led to a variety of therapeutic options. Animal-assisted treatments have shown great promise, but equine therapy for PTSD seems to stand out even among these. So, how can this approach help people recover from trauma?

Transformations at Mending Fences takes a holistic approach to curing the mind and this means creating customized treatment plans. Equine therapy can be a powerful tool in this approach, but every individual is unique. Understanding your particular needs — and the specifics of equine therapy for PTSD — can get you on the path to healing.

Contact us at Mending Fences today to learn more.

What Is Equine Therapy? How Does It Help?

Equine-assisted psychotherapy involves an array of therapies that incorporate horses and other equines into treatment. While the roots of the therapy reach back to the ancient world, a focused approach to treating mental health issues dates back only to the 1990s. Even in such a short time, though, the results of this approach have proven helpful for many different conditions.

Whether someone seeks out equine therapy for PTSD or one of the physical ailments it helps treat, there are a few basic truths that remain consistent. Most importantly, it’s not necessary for an individual to actually ride a horse. Interactions could include riding, ground exercises, grooming, feeding and more.

While some still say this therapy is unproven — mostly due to inconsistent terminology in studies — various licensing and professional organizations support use of the treatment. These include:

  • Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship
  • Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association
  • Equine Facilitated Wellness
  • American Hippotherapy Association

This treatment works in a variety of different ways depending upon a person’s specific needs. With equine therapy for PTSD, the focus is on helping individuals cope with trauma. That’s because posttraumatic stress disorder stems from unprocessed trauma. Unfortunately, the symptoms of the condition often interfere with approaches that help with processing.

This is one area that equine-assisted therapy proves particularly useful. The approach reduces anxiety, increases self-awareness and breaks down the barriers than an individual may have built up. Each of these are integral to overcoming PTSD symptoms and starting the path to healing. Once this takes place, the benefits of equine therapy for PTSD are far more accessible.

Why Is Equine Therapy for PTSD Beneficial?

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of treating PTSD with equine therapy is that it works. Of course, every individual is unique — and it’s possible another approach may be better suited. When looking at the research and benefits of equine therapy for PTSD, though, it becomes clear that this treatment should be available at all mental health facilities.

The following are some of the most important benefits of this therapy.

Regaining a Sense of Control

Feeling a lack of control is one of the most obvious symptoms of PTSD. Sexual trauma, childhood abuse, physical assaults and many other traumatizing incidents can make a person lose their sense of self-efficacy. When you feel you have no control over a situation, the accompanying stress and anxiety can make normal living feel impossible.

Equine therapy for PTSD can combat these feelings through unspoken communication with the animal. Interacting with such a massive animal provides a sense of control over the situation. This is why studies consistently show an improvement of self-efficacy and self esteem following treatment. The immediate feedback during equine psychotherapy is an invaluable tool.

Results Can Come Quickly

There are very few mental health conditions with quick fixes. While any psychiatric professional will avoid offering an estimate of how long treatment may last, equine therapy for PTSD has proven it can work quickly at healing the psyche. In fact, one study found clinical improvement of symptoms after only six weeks of equine therapy.

Even more surprising about that study is that statistically significant results were seen within three weeks. Since research shows that PTSD is a significant predictor of suicidal ideation, utilizing a therapy that can offer quick results is paramount. Healing from PTSD can last years, but gaining the necessary tools for this battle in a short time can drastically improve outcomes.

Rebuilding Trust

Equine therapy for PTSD has also shown great effectiveness at building back trust. Posttraumatic stress makes it difficult to rely on anyone or even to expect them to do no harm. When working with a horse during treatment, a mutual trust must be built. This process allows patients to regain the skills and motivation to trust others.

Physical Changes Occur in the Body

The human mind is a powerful thing. Studies have shown that it’s capable — through the placebo effect — of treating serious conditions. Could this be what’s going on with equine therapy for PTSD? This would be a great theory, but science has shown physical changes to the brain following equine-assisted treatments.

This is an important treatment outcome since PTSD also causes changes in brain chemicals. After equine therapy, patients’ brains showed less gray matter density in certain parts of the brain that exacerbate the condition. There were also increases in certain neural connections. All this is complicated scientific data, but to put it simply, equine therapy helps to heal the brain. 

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Building an Effective Treatment Program

Using equine therapy for PTSD treatment can be a very effective approach. Posttraumatic stress is a complex issue, however, and additional therapies may also prove beneficial. This could be true in a variety of cases. For instance, a person suffering co-occurring disorders (i.e., 80 percent of people with PTSD) may need simultaneous treatments for other issues.

Even when PTSD is the only condition a person lives with, though, additional treatments can prove beneficial. This is because different approaches target different symptom clusters. While equine therapy may be perfect for dealing with one cluster, anxiety management may be a better fit for another. That’s why we offer an array of therapies at Mending Fences.

The following are just a small sample of what we offer in addition to equine therapy for PTSD. If a wide array of treatment options appeal to you, contact us today to learn more.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Art therapy
  • Emotional regulation
  • Adventure therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Medical detoxification
  • Experiential therapies

Each of these mental health treatments have proven effective at treating an array of conditions. If you’re living with PTSD, these may or may not be beneficial approaches. This is something you’ll discuss with a trained professional who will help create an individualized treatment plan that targets your unique needs.

Equine therapy for PTSD can be a powerful healer. When combined with other targeted approaches, though, the potential for a positive outcome increases significantly. Don’t wait to seek out help. Even with posttraumatic stress, living a normal life is possible.

Get Started With Equine Therapy for PTSD Today

About half of people living with mental illness go without treatment. In some cases, this means individuals simply live with frequent anxiety. When it comes to posttraumatic stress disorder, however, the repercussions can be far more severe. If you or someone you love deals with PTSD, it’s essential that you reach out for help now. Without it, the condition will worsen.

Transformations at Mending Fences has a certified staff of professionals committed to our clients’ well-being. Equine therapy for PTSD is one of the many tools at their disposal, but we ensure they have all the best resources to help everyone that walks through the door. Don’t just hope that things get better. The path to mental health starts with a single phone call.

Contact us today to learn more.