Using Equine Therapy to Treat Eating Disorders

Equine Therapy. Equine Assisted Therapy. Horse Therapy. Whichever term you choose to use, this is an interactive therapy in which the patient spends session time with a licensed counselor or therapist, an equine (horse) specialist, and a horse, of course. This is a form of experiential therapy, which allows the patient to explore and process interconnected thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Commonly documented benefits of equine therapy include increased confidence, increased self-concept, improved communication, heightened ability to trust, decreased sense of isolation, increase self acceptance, improved impulse control, improved social skills, heightened understanding of boundaries, emotional regulation, increased empathy, increased teamwork and cooperation skills, and heightened spiritual connections.

Equine therapy is not simply a fancy name for riding lessons, but instead is focused on developing a genuine relationship with a horse. Skills worked on include non-verbal communication, assertiveness, problem solving, creative thinking, leadership, teamwork, and confidence building. This is done primarily through horse care, grooming, saddlery, and yes, some basic riding skills. Safety is a top priority in these sessions, for the horse and the patient, with patients being closely supervised and often provided with protective gear, such as helmets.

There is no one specific cause of eating disorders. Eating disorders are often caused by a combination of genetics, and environmental factors such as peer pressure, and psychological and emotional health. Patients with anxiety disorders and/or depressive disorders are at an especially high risk for developing an eating disorder. The benefits of equine therapy may go a long way for treating depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, as well as helping the patient develop the self-confidence, social skills, and coping skills to contend with the environmental factors that may contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Eating disorders can have serious consequences and complications. A person suffering from an eating disorder may experience extreme discomfort in social situations as well as extreme physical complications. If an eating disorder goes untreated, it may lead to death whether as a result of slow-growing complications or through starvation. Treatment is vital. The best form of treatment varies on a patient-to-patient basis. Discussing an eating disorder with a family doctor is a tremendous first step. Your doctor may recommend dealing directly with a traditional therapist or counselor to begin with. If equine therapy sounds like something that may be beneficial in your case, mention it to your therapist or counselor. He or she may be able to refer you to somebody who works in the equine therapy specialty.


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