Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Therapy With Horses Appears to Lessen Violent Incidents

A horse is only a horse, of course, unless the horse is an adjunctive psychotherapist.

Researchers at New Jew Jersey’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, a 500-bed state facility, tested the relative effects of animal-assisted therapy on violent behavior among a group of 90 patients randomized to receive either therapy with horses, dogs, enhanced social skills training, or usual care, reported Jeffry Nurnberg, M.D., and colleagues online today in Psychiatric Services in Advance. Most of the patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and had been hospitalized for an average of 5.4 years.

Dogs have been used for therapeutic interventions, but studies using horses are rare. Nurnberg and his colleagues used “two or three therapy horses tested and credentialed as suitable for direct patient contact in clinical environments.” Patients did not ride the horses but led them around a course under the instruction of therapists. Comparing before-and-after incident reports, the researchers found decreases in violence and aggression for patients working with horses but not for the other cohorts.

“Unique effects from therapy horses may come from interacting with physically imposing animals that appear quite capable of causing harm but do not,” wrote the authors. “Equine interactions may model nonviolent behavioral strategies, resulting in patients’ greater tolerance of provocative interpersonal stimuli.”

For more in Psychiatric News about using animals as an adjunct to traditional therapies, see “Farm Has Spent 100 Years Helping Those With Serious Mental Illness.”

(Image: Auremar/
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