Safe Harbor Treatment Center

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Equine Assisted Therapy

“The best thing for inside of a man is inside of a horse” – Winston Churchill

Equine assisted therapy in California is a powerful and advantageous therapeutic approach that has been proven to have a positive impact on young women who are struggling with a variety of behavior, developmental and psychological issues. Equine assisted therapy is an integral part of treatment for women at Safe Harbor Treatment Center, located by the beautiful beaches in Southern California, who are suffering from addictions, trauma, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, attention deficit disorder, depression, relationship and communication issues, and eating disorders.

At Safe Harbor Treatment Center for Women in Costa Mesa, California, our equine assisted therapists are certified by EGALA in equine therapy. EGALA has implemented strict guidelines to become a certified Equine Assisted Therapist each therapist must: have college-level educational training and degree in a mental health field, such as social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy; have 6,000 hours (equals to approx. 3 years full-time work) experience hands-on work with horses; must have completed at least 100 hours of continuing education in the horse profession.

During the equine assisted therapy session each client is learning about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses. Equine Assisted Therapy in California is similar to, but much more powerful than ropes course activities. The use of horses brings the added advantage and element of a living creature that the clients are able to bond with to develop skills and work through issues that may be difficult to do in normal therapeutic settings such as one to one “office” settings or group settings.

Why is Equine assisted therapy such a powerful tool in helping clients? According to EGALA professionals, “Those who are familiar with horses recognize and understand the power of horses to influence people in incredibly powerful ways. Developing relationships, training, horsemanship instruction, and caring for the horses naturally affects the people involved in a positive manner.

Most importantly, horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Many people will complain, “The horse is stubborn. The horse doesn’t like me,” etc. But the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.”

Equine assisted therapy in California combines the effort between licensed therapists, their clients and horses to address treatment goals and underlying issues such as, trauma, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, attention deficit disorder, depression, relationship and communication issues, and eating disorders.

These core issues, if not identified and treated can cause continued drug use or relapse. At Safe Harbor Treatment Center for Women in California, the focus of equine assisted therapy includes ground activities with the horses, which requires the client and/or group to apply certain skills. During each equine assisted therapy session clients must use and more importantly, develop tools including: non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem-solving, leadership, personal responsibility, teamwork, relationships, and confidence while doing the ground work with their horse. There are three phases in each equine therapy session: The first phase is called “pre-process” where the client and the therapists go over safety, zones, non-verbal and verbal tones and communication between the horse and the client and discussing what had occurred in the last therapy session. The second phase is the actual work with the horse and the third phase is processing what occurred during the second phase.

During the ground work exercises and following the completion of the ground work exercises, the therapist guides the individual client and group through the psychological effects of each activity; processing feelings, behaviors and life patterns that arise during a session. During each equine assisted therapy session each client is learning themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. Throughout each equine assisted therapy session the activities are used as metaphors for the issues each client is facing.

The benefits of using equine assisted therapy in combination with other therapies give the clients the opportunity to actively process, learn and practice the tools necessary to they are able to break free from work through issues, break free from destructive life patterns and build a strong foundation of emotional and physical sobriety. While humans are considered predators, horses are considered prey. As a result of these classifications, the horse is uniquely aware of every action a human makes around them, responding in ways that are visible to the clients and to the certified therapist.

Equine assisted therapy is unique in that it is experiential and keeps clients in the present. Equine assisted therapy helps clients explore issues affecting their personal happiness and long-term sobriety helping clients build skills in conflict resolution and self-esteem. Therapists emphasize building communication skills and being assertive, practiced with their relationship with their horse and then utilizing these skills in their newly sober lives. 

At Safe Harbor Treatment Center for Women in California, equine assisted therapy is done with three professionals: the therapist, the horse professional and the certified therapy horse. The therapist looks at how the client is responding to the horse while the horse therapist looks at how the horse responds to the individual. The certified therapy horse show the non-verbal communication that the client themselves may or may not be aware of that can affect their long-term sobriety and recovery.

Equine assisted therapy differs from other kinds of therapy around the world as it is experiential and pragmatic. Unlike other therapies, the client does not have to look into their past directly and build it up, but focuses on present feelings. Equine assisted therapy finds out what is happening right here and now with the client while seeing how their past behaviors are affecting their present life. The client and the certified therapists then look to find the tools and skills to change bad feelings and behaviors as they come up in the moment. This type of therapy is completely different then “office therapy” where clients can talk about their problems and troubleling behavior, but do not get to put their problems into practice immediately. Equine assisted therapy is also non-threatening as the client is out there on their own with the horse, although it is monitored by therapists.