Background: A good therapeutic relationship is a strong predictor of successful treatment in addiction and other psychological illness. Recent studies of horse-assisted therapy (HAT) have drawn attention to the importance of the client’s relationship to the horse in psychotherapy. Few have reported on the patient’s own perspective and none have reported specifically on the human–horse relationship in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and its implications for health and well-being.
Aim: This article explores SUD patients’ own experience of their relationship with the horse and their perceptions of its contribution to their therapy.
Methods: As part of a large mixed-method study of HAT in SUD treatment, we used semi-structured interviews of eight patients to gather information about their experiences of HAT. From the data obtained, the relationship with the horse was found to be a significant part of participants’ HAT experience. It is therefore the subject of the current phenomenological study, in which thematic analysis was used to investigate how the participants constructed the reality of their relationship with the horse(s) and their perceptions of the consequences of that reality in SUD treatment.
Results: Participants’ own descriptions suggest that the horses were facilitators of a positive self-construct and provided important emotional support during treatment. Analysis found relationship with the horse, emotional effect, and mastery to be important and interrelated themes. The findings were interpreted within an attachment theory context.
Conclusion: The results appear to be consistent with key addiction treatment theories and with findings in HAT theoretical and empirical studies. They add to our understanding of the impact of HAT on SUD treatment. However, further research is needed into both the construct validity of the patient–horse therapeutic relationship and the possible variance within and between different populations.
This item's license is: Attribution 4.0 International