by Kate McLaughlin
Is Equine and Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy Effective?
The use of animals in therapeutic intervention is becoming more and more popular in modern professional practices but is equine and animal-assisted psychotherapy effective?
Animal-assisted psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves animals, typically horses, in the client’s recovery process. For many people, interacting with animals has often demonstrated itself to be an excellent way of regulating emotions. This makes the process of engaging with therapy much easier as a result. This is especially true for clients who struggle to engage with talking therapy.
The reason that animal-assisted therapy is so effective is because animals such as horses and dogs are empathic enough to easily pick up on how a person is feeling. As such, they provide support in a way that is inherently non-judgmental. Since animals can only communicate using nonverbal means, this also makes them great counterparts for assisting clients with preverbal trauma to access and convey their complex emotions.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Equine therapy is a highly specialised and effective form of therapy which involves clients working with horses, a therapist, and a horse handler.
Horses are herd animals with a pronounced flight instinct. This means they will pick up on a client’s stress and discomfort very quickly. If the horse chooses to retreat away from the client, it is likely that they are picking up on something from them that is making them uncomfortable. This can be a great reflection tool for our clients in considering the nonverbal messages and body language they are communicating.
Similarly, this deep sense of empathy causes the horses to want to be with their human companions and help them to resolve emotional distress. They can often achieve this by serving as a blank slate for the clients to project their feelings onto.
At JSA Psychotherapy, we are fortunate enough to have access to a 10-acre equestrian facility including fields, stables, an arena and our own horses.
Our horses regularly prove to be extremely popular with clients, but we understand that some people are wary and unsure around horses so as an alternative, we also run therapeutic sessions involving other therapy animals such as dogs and chickens.
Other Animal-Assisted Psychotherapies
While equine therapy is the most common and popular form of animal-assisted therapy that we deliver, we also offer dog assisted therapy and chicken assisted therapy as alternatives.
The type of animal chosen for this animal-assisted therapy is personal preference and depends on how comfortable the client feels with the different animals.
Dog Assisted Psychotherapy
Our dog assisted therapy can take place in many different ways. This could be in the form of dog walks outside the practice or having the dogs join the sit-down sessions.
We currently have two therapy dogs – Dottie and Ruby. Dottie is a 6-year-old Jack Russel terrier/pug cross and Ruby is a labradoodle, and the newest and youngest member of the team at just 11 weeks old!
Their presence during clinical psychotherapy can work wonders to help our clients to practice mindful thinking. It can also help them to achieve the emotional regulation necessary to get the most out of their time with us.
If you want to find out more, have a look at our dedicated equine and animal-assisted psychotherapy services page.
If you think you might benefit from our equine and animal-assisted therapy services, contact us today.