A very popular and effective therapy method used for treatment of those suffering from addiction involves horses. Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Assisted Learning (the difference is whether a licensed therapist is involved in the process or not) are relatively new to the mental health community, but the results are impressive.
Mark Jorgensen is the founder and executive director of Desert Solace, a sex addiction and pornography addiction treatment center located in St. George, Utah. He has seen these results first-hand. “Equine therapy is amazing!” says Jorgensen, “anyone who has been around horses has recognized not only their power and beauty, but also the ability of these animals to tune in to human emotion.”
Jorgensen says that Equine Assisted Therapy is a critical part of the overall treatment program at Desert Solace. “We’ve been using Equine Therapy for almost five years. Whether the interaction with the horse involves training, horsemanship, or just everyday care, the amount of insight into our clients we are able to gain is remarkable.”
Participants in Equine Assisted Therapy find many benefits, including communication, responsibility, work ethic, and learning to connect and have healthy relationships with others. Regarding these benefits, Jorgensen added, “Being with horses has a way of providing for our emotional needs as humans that we often don’t even realize. These magnificent animals just seem to naturally provide these needs.”
One might reasonably ask: “What is so unique about horses? Why can’t other animals be used?” Horses, of course, are large and powerful animals, and can be very intimidating. This fact alone creates a natural opportunity for participants to overcome fear and develop confidence. Pushing through those natural fears can create a confidence that can be applied in all areas of life.
Horses also have other unique characteristics that the team of equine specialists and therapists at Desert Solace use to provide an opportunity for a shift in both thought and behavior for their clients. Humans and horses have many surprising similarities. We are both social animals. We both have defined roles within our “herds.” We both would rather be with our peers. We all have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. We can both seem stubborn and defiant. We both like to have fun. Because of these similarities, horses provide many opportunities for learning, even with the most challenging individuals or groups.
Horses require work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era of instant gratification, horses require people to be patients, and to be engaged both physically and mentally to be successful, which is a valuable lesson in all areas of life.
Perhaps most importantly, horses mirror human body language and human emotion, as mentioned by Jorgensen. Most people have heard the old adage “a horse can smell fear”. Horses may not necessarily be able to “smell” fear, but they can certainly sense it, along with every other emotion.
A horse may avoid a person, prompting comments like “this horse is stubborn, or that horse doesn’t like me”. Likewise, a horse may approach a person on its own in a very warm friendly way. “This simply means the horse is responding to the energy it senses,” says Jorgensen. “If we change ourselves, the horse responds to us differently. This makes them especially powerful teachers.”
Desert Solace employs the powerful benefits of equine therapy twice weekly as part of its overall therapeutic approach to healing from the effects of sexual addiction. By learning to connect and form a relationship with a horse, a recovering addict can also learn to form healthy relationships with people in his life, or repair relationships damaged by the disconnection he has created through his addiction.