Equine-facilitated Psychotherapy as a Complementary Intervention for Substance Use Disorders
Animals have been positively impacting human health for centuries. Recently, an alternative therapy, animal assisted therapy (AAT), has been developed that incorporates trained animals into a professional setting. The use of horses in a therapeutic context is a subset of AAT known as equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP). EFP has been incorporated into the healing process for a wide range of behavioral and mental health disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs). EFP is commonly used as a complimentary intervention to empirically supported therapeutic interventions. During EFP, horses support clients’ development of positive behavior and emotional wellness through a variety of activities. There are several limitations to EFP as it is a developing therapeutic intervention. Despite the increasing use of EFP within mental health settings, particularly SUD and dual diagnosis treatment programs, there is limited research supporting its efficacy. Further research using methodologically rigorous designs are imperative given the rapid growth of mental health clinics using EFP to treat a diverse range of clinical populations. This paper will review the current literature related to the efficacy and implementation of EFP into practice. Specifically, an emphasis will be placed on the use of EFP in the treatment of SUDs. Additionally, research limitations as well as precautions in the clinical practice of EFP will be discussed.
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