Equine Therapy For Veterans With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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The United States Armed Forces currently has a far-reaching epidemic. With the return of active duty members, who are now veterans, the number of these men and women who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which many times includes years of depression and other debilitating psychological issues, continues to be an on-going problem.

The repercussions of veterans serving in the military, whether he or she served in a combat situation or was a victim of sexual assault or rape, or anything in between, the result is the same. PTSD often finds a veteran who has a difficult time adjusting back to a “normal” life. As a result he or she constantly lives with fear, anxiety, anger, nightmares, confusion, startle reflexes, irritability, depression, hyper-vigilance, and hopelessness. When the emotional, and sometimes physical pain, becomes too much to bear veterans often result to taking their own lives.  

 In 2012, the U.S. Army reported that for the first time in history of the United States more soldiers were lost to suicide than to combat.
Therapists who treat veterans for PTSD and other mental health issues are always looking for better ways to help their patients. Instead of spending years in therapy session trying to make a breakthrough, many therapists have introduced their patients to Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP).

Horses For Therapy

(Misty Godfrey, owner of the Bill Picket Riding Academy in Philadelphia, PA)
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is being used more often by therapists to treat the aftermath of what military men and women deal with while serving in the Armed Forces. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs estimates that Post Traumatic Stress affects roughly 300,000 men and women who return from overseas. For the past few years, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy has grown because the results of treating veterans who suffer from PTSD shows great promise.

Almost any kind of pet – dog, cat, rabbit, bird, etc. – helps the owner reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. But with horses, patients with PTSD show tremendous reduction with their symptoms. Horses are hyper-vigilance and rely heavily on body language. They recognize and react to levels of anger, anxiety, fear, or sadness. This is why veterans learn how to react to their horse with calmness.

 Talk Therapy  

Talk therapy between a mental health professional and patient can take years to produce positive results because the doctor and patient have to establish a connection and form trust between each other. This can take extensive time to do, especially for a veteran who fears being judged or told what to do or made to seem like it’s their fault.

According to Dr. Laurie Sullivan-Sakeada, a Utah based Clinical Psychologist and leading practitioner of EAP, stated “one session of EAP in the barn is equal to five sessions on the couch.” She goes on to say that using horses as therapy tools helps speed up the therapy process.

Although equine therapy is relatively new compared to other forms of therapy for PTSD, doctors are enthusiastic about the positive results they are seeing.

Emotional Healing Power

Veterans who participant in equine therapy are required to groom their horses, tack them up, ride, cool them down, feed, water, and clean stalls. This is part of the daily routine that goes into properly caring for a horse. These interactions help veterans bond with their horse and at the same time gain confidence, build emotional growth, and learn about themselves.

Veterans also learn to be vulnerable with their horse and let their guard down knowing they won’t be judged or feel pressure. In fact, through horse therapy veterans gain confidence by learning how to master horsemanship skills. They also learn how to communicate, sometimes non-verbally, with their horse and achieve harmony and a sense of relaxation, which helps veterans control their rage, anger, agitation, and aggressiveness. Instead, the gentle and loving way veterans care for their horse leads to cooperativeness and behavioral control, along with developing the skills to express themselves better and with more patience. This translates to a deeper relationship with veterans’ loves ones, especially their spouse and children.
(Actor Tamara Woods feeds a carrot to a horse in one scene)
In “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives” Sgt. Diane Torres (actor Tamara Woods) suffers from PTSD as a result of being raped by her commanding officer, Captain Jake Nixon. Later, she finds out she is pregnant and she has a difficult time deciding whether she should keep the baby or abort it. Having PTSD Diane sinks into a major depression and becomes unhinged and violent at times. It is through therapy with horses, or Equine Therapy, that helps Diane cope with the horrible experience she endured in the Army. She eventually comes to terms with what happened to her and decides to keep the baby.  
(On the left, Misty Godfrey, was the horse stunt double for actor Tamara Woods, (center) who was eight months pregnant at the time of this scene. On the right, Jillian Bullock, director, writer and producer)

Finding Peace In The Saddle

For veterans who struggle with PTSD or depression horse therapy may be the answer to helping them find peace and cope with their daily life. For those interested search for a local therapeutic riding center in your area. Be mindful to check to make sure the staff is accredited by a national organization.

Check out Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and http://www.operationwearehere.com/EquineTherapy.html for more details and information.  

#ASOPmovie #JillianBullock #JohnQuinlan #LamontFountain #TamaraWoods #PTSD #SexualAssault #Veterans