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Journal of Integrative Medicine ›› 2020, Vol. 18 ›› Issue (2): 169-173.doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2020.01.005

• Original Clinical Research • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Acceptability of an adjunct equine-assisted activities and therapies program for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury

Louisa Sylviaa,b,c, Emerson Westa, Allyson M. Blackburna, Carina Guptaa, Eric Buia,b, Tara Mahoneyd, Geraldine Duncand, Edward C. Wrighta,b, Simon Lejeunea,b, Thomas J. Spencera,b,e   

  1. a Home Base: A Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA
    b Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA
    c Dauten Family Bipolar Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA
    d Equine Immersion Programs™, USA
    e Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD, Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital, MA 02114-2696, USA
  • Received:2019-02-12 Accepted:2019-08-29 Online:2020-03-10 Published:2020-01-23
  • Contact: Louisa Sylvia

Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAATs) have been a growing adjunctive integrative health modality, as they allow participants to practice mindfulness, emotional regulation, and self-mastery or self-esteem building skills. Preliminary evidence suggests that these programs may be helpful in reducing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depressive symptoms. The current study examines the acceptability of integrating an EAAT program as part of a two-week, intensive clinical program for veterans with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

A family member or support person could accompany veterans and participate in the program. One hundred and six participants (veteran n = 62, family n = 44) left the urban environment in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to attend a two-day, weekend EAAT in rural New Hampshire. Satisfaction surveys were conducted on the last day of the program and examined using thematic analysis.

The following themes were reported in the surveys: ability of horses to catalyze emotional rehabilitation, effectiveness of immersion in equine-assisted activities, program’s ability to foster interpersonal relationships and necessity of education about PTSD for staff. Participants also reported enjoying the program as highlighted by qualitative feedback, a mean score of 9.76 (standard deviation [SD] = 0.61) as reported by veterans and a mean score of 9.91 (SD = 0.29) as reported by family members on a 10-point visual analog scale with higher scores indicating a greater overall experience.

These data offer preliminary evidence that an adjunct EAAT program is acceptable for veterans with PTSD and/or TBI participating in an IOP.

Key words: Posttraumatic stress disorder, Military personnel, Traumatic brain injury, Complementary and alternative medicine, Equine-assisted therapy

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