The findings from a Horses and Humans Research Foundation funded project “Effects of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy on Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Youth” were recently published in the peer-review Journal of Child and Family Studies.

The study abstract is as follows:

Equine-assisted therapy has become an increasingly popular complementary mental health treatment approach, but there is limited empirical research assessing the effectiveness of this practice. In particular, equine-facilitated psychotherapy has many potential benefits for the treatment of trauma in youth. The purpose of the proposed study was to investigate changes in levels of post-traumatic stress symptomatology and levels of the human-animal bond in children and adolescents ages 10-18 over the course of a 10-week equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) intervention. Youth in the treatment group participated in 10 weekly two hour EFP sessions, and were compared on changes in post-traumatic stress symptoms with a control group of participants who continued to receive the already existing traditional therapeutic services provided by their treatment facility or outpatient therapist. Findings suggested a significant decrease in post-traumatic stress symptoms across the intervention for both the treatment and control group, but the treatment group did not decrease significantly more than the control group. These findings suggest that EFP may be an effective additional treatment modality for post-traumatic stress symptoms, but there was no evidence from this initial study that EFP was significantly more effective than traditional office-based therapy. Further research and discussion of the relative benefits of EFP compared to traditional treatment modalities is warranted.

Principal investigator, Dr. Megan Kiely Mueller, said, “The results from this study indicated that participants in the equine-facilitated psychotherapy intervention experienced a significant reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms over the course of the treatment.

“However, we also saw the control group (with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy) experience similar symptom decreases. While these findings suggest that equine-facilitated psychotherapy may be an effective treatment modality for post-traumatic stress symptoms, further discussion and research of the relative costs and benefits of equine-facilitated psychotherapy compared to traditional treatment modalities should be addressed in future research.

“When working with high-risk youth populations who may experience burnout or treatment fatigue from traditional methods, it is useful to identify innovative therapeutic strategies (such as equine-facilitated psychotherapy) that can be used in addition to or conjunction with traditional methods. The more treatment options that are available, the better.

“This research provided an important step forward in understanding how equine-facilitated psychotherapy can be used for the treatment of post-traumatic stress. Future research should explore for which particular youth, an equine-based approach would be the most motivational and appealing. ”

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