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-assisted 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 and needs individualized treatment. 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.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy involves an array of therapies that incorporate exposure therapy to horses and other equines. 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 equine-assisted therapy is unproven — mostly due to inconsistent terminology in studies — various licensing and professional organizations support the use of the treatment. These include:
This treatment works in a variety of different ways depending upon a person’s specific needs. With equine-assisted therapy for PTSD, the focus is on helping individuals cope with trauma. That’s because posttraumatic stress disorder stems from unprocessed traumatic experiences. 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 that an individual may have built up through their mental illness. 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.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of PTSD treatment with horses is that it works. Of course, every individual is unique — and it’s possible another treatment program 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 for PTSD patients.
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 and develop mental health problems. When you feel you have no control over a situation, the accompanying stress and anxiety can make normal living feel impossible.
Medical psychology shows that 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 in self-efficacy and self-esteem following treatment. The immediate feedback during equine psychotherapy is an invaluable tool.
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.
PTSD equine therapy 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, mutual trust must be built. This process allows patients to regain the skills and motivation to trust others.
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 therapy.
This is an important treatment outcome since Posttraumatic stress disorder 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 program helps to heal the brain.
Contact Transformations at Mending Fences at (888) 995-6013 today to learn more about our equine therapy in Morriston, FL.
Mental Illness Policy
Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Research and Practice
Journal of Traumatic Stress
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Human Brain Mapping