Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2021

How Does Equine Therapy Work?

There is no single answer to this question because there is no single kind of equine therapy. Equine, or horse, therapy is used to treat numerous physical and mental health issues. In nearly every case, a therapeutic bond forms between the horse and person, but what that bond entails really depends on the situation. Feeding, grooming, and any specialized care the horse may need is one common method for this therapy. So, too, is learning how to give various commands and putting the horse through his or her daily exercise. Finally, even when the horse can’t be ridden, the practice of saddling the horse may still be part of the program.

Why Horses?

Well, it doesn’t have to be horses. From dogs to dolphins to sheep, there are a number of different animal-assisted therapies. Fortunately, there’s really no need to throw a horse and, say, an alpaca into a double-blind study. Considerable effort is made to match different types of animals—as well as the specific horse—to the individual who is seeking therapy.

That said, there are specific advantages to using horses. First, horses are among the smartest animals out there. Their memory, in particular, make them imminently trainable, including the ability to obey complex commands. Their natural beauty, mannerisms, and unique care needs make the everyday experience incredibly rewarding.

Moreover, many of the horses need you just as much as you need them. There are more than 9 million horses in the U.S. for racing, showing, ranch and farm work, personal recreation, and a number of other activities. Inevitably, some of these horses are injured or fall ill and can no longer perform their previous work duties. Thus, many equine therapy centers, and the people who provide the horses’ care, are directly responsible for saving the lives of horses that might otherwise be euthanized.

What Type of Horse is Best for Equine Therapy?

From the Norwegian Fjord riding horse to miniature horses that people sometimes keep as pets, some breeds do tend to be better than others for therapy. That said, the most important factors tend to be size, temperament, and ride-ability. Even the horse’s personal history is taken into account, especially if there’s some type of common past between the horse and person. But just as often, a bond is forged by finding the differences that empower the horse and person to work together.

  • An injured horse that can’t be ridden at all and requires special care may be paired with someone who is struggling to recover from drug addiction, childhood abuse, or other mental health troubles where providing a nurturing environment to others can be invaluable in building resilience.
  • In contrast, someone with a physical disability may benefit from riding a horse with a stocky build, peaceful temperament, and clean gait. Feeding, grooming, and other aspects of the horse’s care may or may not be part of the therapy.
  • Other types of equine therapy are based almost solely on companionship and lifting people’s moods. And, on this point, a small pony galloping around the room and running up to people asking to be pet tends to be pretty effective.

Starting Equine Therapy in Utah

Some people go directly to one of Utah’s equine centers, but people with a serious mental illness frequently talk to a therapist or psychologist about their troubles and which types of therapy might work best in your case. That said, don’t hesitate to tell the mental health professional about your interest in horses, as these personal preferences may be a factor in making a referral. Likewise, know that equine therapy may be an adjunct therapy that is done in coordination with a larger treatment plan.

What People in Utah Should Know about Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, also known as psychotic disorder, is a mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, agitation, lack of facial expression and/or extreme apathy. Beyond the definition and a list of symptoms, however, there are several things to know about this disorder that can help you better respond to the symptoms and behaviors associated with schizophrenia in Utah.

Biological and Evolutionary Factors

Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the idea that there’s a genetic component to schizophrenia, and family history is, indeed, a risk factor. But there’s also a further line of thought that suggests psychosis has been a part of the human race ever since there’s been a human race. What’s the evidence? Well, one thing particular to psychotic disorder is the stability of the prevalence rates. Ever since researchers have described, categorized, and measured the disorder, this prevalence has consistently hovered around an average of just under 1%.

And while animals have behavioral issues that mimic a wide range of mental disorders, language and social barriers make it difficult to even conceptualize what a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia would look like in a dog or cat. Moreover, there are huge changes throughout the schizophrenic brain—including enlarged fluid-filled ventricles and glutamate receptor disruption—that suggest our unique brain development and social-linguistic capacities may be directly connected to the underlying causes of this mental illness. Some researchers have even begun to identify the specific genes that increase risk of schizophrenia.

It’s a cruel irony that the underlying nature and rates of schizophrenia may be a side effect of human’s unique capacity for language, while the subjective experience of the disorder disrupts the individual’s sense of social belonging. But it’s also something worth remembering when we feel tempted to condemn the individual who has little, if any, control over their thought patterns and sensory experience.

Environmental and Developmental Factors

There are many causes of schizophrenia, and genes alone do not determine the emergence of psychotic disorder. Especially when it occurs during childhood development, the presence of some exacerbating factor (virus, malnutrition, substance use, head injury, trauma) is thought to activate the potential for schizophrenia. Epigenetics—the interplay between genes and environment—still allows for a large amount of pure chance. So, while basic caregiving is enormously important in a child’s development, parents should avoid irrationally blaming themselves. Often, parents can “do everything right” and still have a child that develops psychosis.

Local, Cultural Factors in Utah

Even apart from these genetic and environmental factors, the schizophrenic mind is still, in some ways, a product of its culture. It’s one thing to know that psychotic disorder involves paranoia, delusions, and/or hallucinations. But these symptoms are also filled with content pulled from one’s everyday experience. Both LDS and non-LDS folk recognize the state’s unique religious, political, and cultural heritage. It’s not uncommon for someone’s paranoia to be fueled by some of Utah’s more extreme mistrust of civil authorities.

Alternately, one’s delusions and hallucinations that take on a religious symbolism that is particularly agonizing for the person and his or her loved ones. Schizophrenia can present with a range of symptoms. But for some, the experience is not unlike living out one’s dreams and nightmares in real life. And so, while an afflicted person may behave in ways that are extremely odd and/or offensive, we should imagine being judged by the content of our own dreams and nightmares before we start casting aspersions in return.

Think Someone in Utah has Schizophrenia?

Often, the early symptoms of schizophrenia—disorganized thoughts, erratic speech, anxiety and paranoia—may be difficult to distinguish from other mental disorders. Only a qualified mental health professional can make a clinical diagnosis. Yet, if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these disturbing and/or disruptive symptoms, it’s important to talk to a mental health provider as soon as possible.

Exploring Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Natural remedies for anxiety are actually a collection of very different therapies and treatment philosophies. And it’s not one-size-fits-all. People who are highly susceptible to hypnosis may have a natural remedy for anxiety that is uniquely effective for them. Desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is most commonly used to treat anxiety associated with trauma and abuse. Or it could be something as simple as acupuncture working for one individual and not the next.

But there is also a lot of variance even within the same type of anxiety disorder. It’s easy to think someone with social anxiety wouldn’t do well with yoga classes—and many don’t—but it could also be that there’s something about yoga that doesn’t create the same pressure as other social settings to perform and interact with other people. Meanwhile, the body therapy and guided meditation offer a great salve for the toll social anxiety can take on the mind and body.

Body Therapies as a Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Body therapies are exactly what they sound like: Therapeutic techniques applied with or to the body to alleviate anxiety. And while these therapies tend to “only treat the symptoms,” removing some of the toll these symptoms take on the body can provide an important measure of optimism. This optimism can help the individual engage in cognitive therapies and, thus, make a more lasting change to their mood and mental health. Popular body therapies include yoga, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic services. Moreover, maintaining a regular exercise routine and improved diet can be its own type of natural remedy for anxiety.

Cognitive Therapies as a Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Cognitive therapy is its own comprehensive theory of psychotherapy that emphasizes recognizing and changing distorted thinking, problematic behaviors, and maladaptive emotional responses. But there are also several mind-based techniques that may employed by a therapist of almost any therapy orientation:

  • Meditation: Rather than trying to “just calm down,” many people find they can successfully alleviate or cope with their symptoms by learning to focus on and live in the present moment.
  • Mindfulness: This, too, involves being in the present moment, but rather than a candle, it’s your own thoughts that serve as the focusing stimulus. (In this way, meditation can serve as a stepstool for the practice of mindfulness.) Rather than judging or analyzing each thought, the goal is to simply observe each thought as it enters your mind.
  • Hypnotherapy: For those who are susceptible to hypnosis, this can be a uniquely effective treatment, but it’s no miracle cure. Often, the big question for this anxiety treatment is: Do you visit a hypnotherapy practice or a licensed mental health therapist who is also a certified hypnotherapist? Regardless, it usually takes several sessions to see a big change in mood.

Other Natural Remedies for Anxiety

  • Neurofeedback: This process involves showing the individual a visual or auditory representation of their brain activity as a way of controlling the activity. It may be weird to think of a therapy that involves attaching sensors to your scalp as a natural remedy for anxiety, but it is non-invasive. Plus, although neurofeedback isn’t a miracle cure, it’s cool to think that you can play a video game that’s designed to teach your brain to be less anxious.
  • Herbal Treatments: Through a number of online resources, you can find a handful of popular and commonly cited herbal treatments used for anxiety, as well as a longer list of herbal and nutritional supplements that are being actively studied. It’s more difficult than you might imagine, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. In general, we’re learning that some of these supplements likely produce some positive benefit, albeit a small one for most people.
  • Cannabis Therapy: Smoking marijuana with your buddies to take the edge off the workweek is not the same thing as cannabis therapy for anxiety. To get the best results, you should consult with a doctor in a state that permits cannabis treatment, determine which types of cannabis make sense for you, and closely adhere to a cannabis schedule and daily dosage. Moreover, because cannabis can potentially cause paranoia and elevated heart rate, among other side effects, there are still big risks associated with using the drug as an anxiety medication. And long-term, cannabinoids also have their own potential for withdrawal syndrome and rebound effects. Nevertheless, an increasing number of people are considering cannabis therapy for anxiety as a more “natural”—or at least less dangerous—choice than benzos and other anxiety medications.

Seek Guidance from a Mental Health Therapist

Even after doing your own research, there’s a good chance that choosing a treatment feels like throwing darts at a dart board. Whether you don’t know where to begin or you’ve already been through several failed attempts, it’s a great idea to talk to a therapist in Utah who has experience treating anxiety. In addition to lending an empathetic ear, these mental health providers can offer personalized tips for your natural anxiety remedies. They can also serve as a guide that helps coordinate and measure the effectiveness of various treatments.