More and more, animals are being incorporated into therapy sessions in eating disorder, substance abuse treatment centers, and outpatient programs. At Avalon Hills, animals are an integral part of our program, and horses, in particular, serve as an important experiential component to eating disorder treatment. We have found that horseback riding and animal therapy help many clients better empathize with the animals, themselves, and their bodily needs, with less negative judgment.
How Does Equine Therapy Contribute to Eating Disorder Treatment?
Eating disorders involve an intricate web of psychological beliefs and coping behaviors. They are often associated with high social sensitivity and poor self-perception, and they can be affected by the presence of other mental health conditions. Eating disorders may also be a result of trauma in one’s childhood or background, so processing trauma is a key element of fostering recovery from these conditions.
Given more recent advances in the science of understanding why sensorimotor interventions are integrative to the brain, we are able to utilize equine work at a higher level. Specifically, riding and even groundwork with horses can be a non-threatening entry point for our patients to reconnect with the function of their own bodies outside of the fears and pressures of appearance-based judgments. Horses are highly intelligent and sensitive and thus give important feedback to their human companions about their own social behaviors, beliefs, and patterns that provide unique moments of insight and perspective. Many horse professionals have referred to horses as “large biofeedback machines” because they so intuitively know the level of tension of the person riding them. Benefits of Equine therapy include:
- Observation and growth: Our therapists observe their clients’ interactions with the horses and gain an understanding of how this translates into reactions with people. This insight helps clients gain awareness and put skills into action.
- Creating healthy relationships: Horses are not concerned about their appearance or weight. They simply live in the moment. Connecting with another being without the risk of judgment or rejection helps clients to feel less threatened when they transition to healthy relationships.
- Fostering trust: Many eating disorder clients have experienced trauma and have a difficult time trusting others. Working with the horses provides clients with a safe environment in which to process their fears. When talking to a therapist is too threatening, interactions with our animals can be the bridge to ease into communication.
At Avalon Hills, our horses are on site, and clients have the opportunity to ride them each week. Our skilled staff focuses on the parallels between the horses and the individuals, teaching clients how to care for the horses as they learn how to care for themselves.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please get in touch with our team today. Our experienced staff is ready to answer your questions about our program. Equine therapy is a unique and small piece of our approach to eating disorder treatment, which is focused on healing the whole person for the best chance at long-term recovery.