Equine Therapy: In the Biopsychosocial Model

There is no shortage of stress reduction strategies, particularly these days. And for the most part, these interventions can be incorporated into the traditional psychotherapeutic model quite easily. When this occurs, a triage like form of care can be offered to the patient which leaves less room for unmet needs that may cause problems later.

No other area is this more true than in the case of substance abuse recovery. Addicts have often more than one additional psychological issue or concern that is often underlying their using. Certainly, using drugs alone has it’s own host of effects on a person, and more now than ever, professionals are realizing that if the physical, emotional and sometimes neuropsychological ramifications of long term drug abuse are not remedied, the person remains at high risk.

A quick search of substance abuse treatment programs also very quickly reveals that more and more, these programs are turning toward a more holistic model of care, often offering yoga, massage, neurolinguistic programming, personal training, meditation, and equine therapy. 

Equine therapy, like yoga and massage, can be easily incorporated into a multifaceted approach as a stress reduction methodology. Particularly in the case of patients whose anxiety has taken on a physical nature, an intellectual understanding of stress reduction may not be effective. The reason for this is that for some people, the neurochemical markers of stress are just too high, and have been at this level for too long. A person such as this can then be said to be chronically “keyed up”. However, for this person, this may also represent what is normal. (ie: he/she may have no kinesthetic understand of not being “keyed up”).

Here, attempts to reverse this set of neurological circumstances may require a kinesthetic intervention (ie: some form of neurological feedback that can interrupt the positive feedback loop that is now entrenched). Here is also where equine therapy can be a very effective tool.

Because it is a kinesthetic intervention, horses do affect people on a neurological level. The reason for this is simply that people are forced to attune to their own physiology. When they are calm, the horse is calm, and when their stress levels rise (even if they are unaware), the horse is no longer calm. In this way, the feedback from the horse then acts as both a marker -- indicating just when the person becomes anxious -- but also a way to stop the anxiety from building, for as soon as the person can contain his/her anxiety again, the horse will again calm down.

The most interesting part is of course that while the person may be thinking that he/she is calming the horse, in actuality, it is himself/herself that is being calmed.

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on February 25, 2012 at 11:23am

I particularly like your last sentence!

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