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Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Healing Therapy or Just Hype?

To date, just a handful of quantitative studies have been published. Klontz and colleagues (2007) looked at psychological distress and well-being among 31 participants, ages 23 to 70. Findings from self-report questionnaires revealed reductions in psychological distress and less psychological symptoms. Participants reported being more independent and self-supported, better able to live fully in the present and less troubled with regrets, resentment and guilt. However, the researchers noted limitations like the absence of a control group and a randomly selected sample.

In a recent pilot study, researchers explored EAP’s effectiveness in 63 children who witnessed violence between their parents and experienced child abuse (Schultz, Remick-Barlow & Robbins, 2007). After an average of 19 sessions, all children showed improved scores on the Children’s Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF), which measures psychological, social and school functioning for six- to 17-year-olds. Limitations included a self-selected sample, no control group and the use of one measure.

Other research with at-risk adolescents has produced mixed results. While earlier studies (Bowers & MacDonald, 2001; MacDonald & Cappo, 2003 as cited in Ewing, MacDonald, Taylor & Bowers, 2007) found a decrease in depression and increase in self-esteem, recent research didn’t show any significant changes in 10- to 13-year-olds in a nine-week equine program (Ewing et al., 2007). However, the authors presented several case studies that suggested the program was helpful. Speculating on the nonsignificant findings, the authors pointed to the program’s short duration; the devastating changes many of the kids experienced in their family life during the study; and the children’s severe disorders.

Why The Lack of Research?

It’s natural to wonder why there is a shortage of published studies on EAP. Experts suggest it may be because experience-based therapy, such as storytelling or art therapy, is difficult to quantify. In other words, the questionnaires that psychologists typically use to measure a treatment’s effectiveness might not capture the changes or positive benefits of EAP. EAP also is a relatively new form of therapy.

Should You Try It?

Though the empirical data is currently lacking, some research and anecdotal evidence do illustrate positive results. Remuda Ranch has the highest success rate in the nation, Gerberry, the director, said. Most believe EAP to be a beneficial adjunct treatment for eating disorders but should not replace medication and therapy.

When looking for a reputable program, consider the following:

  • A well-qualified treatment team including mental health and equine experts.
  • A trained mental health provider with licensure to practice in his or her state. The therapist should have advanced training in EAP.
  • A particular therapist’s treatment approach. Each may have different ideas about the best way to proceed.
  • A program with EAGALA or NARHA certification (see the websites listed below).

References

Barker, S.B. (1999). Therapeutic Aspects of the Human-Companion Animal Interaction. Psychiatric Times, 16.

Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association.

Ewing, C.A., MacDonald, P.M., Taylor, M., Bowers M.J. (2007). Equine-facilitated learning for youths with
several emotional disorders: A quantitative and qualitative study. Child Youth Care Forum, 36, 59-72.

Klontz, B.T., Bivens, A., Leinart, D., Klontz, T. (2007). The effectiveness of equine-assisted experiential
therapy: Results of an open clinical trial. Society and Animals, 15, 257-267.

McCormick A., & McCormick M. (1997). Horse Sense and the Human Heart: What Horses Can Teach Us About Trust, Bonding, Creativity and Spirituality. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc.

Schultz, P.N., Remick-Barlow, A.G., Robbins, L. (2007). Equine-assisted psychotherapy: A mental health
promotion/intervention modality for children who have experienced intra-family violence.
Health and Social Care in the Community, 15, 265-271.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Healing Therapy or Just Hype?


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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Healing Therapy or Just Hype?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 7, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/equine-assisted-psychotherapy-healing-therapy-or-just-hype/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.