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The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial

Klontz B, Bivens A, Leinart D, Klontz T. (2007). The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial, Society & Animals, (15): 257-267.


Research question:  Does Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy (EAET) help to reduce psychological stress and enhance the well-being of participants?  This question was examined at a residential treatment center in the southern United States.  The researchers hypothesized that the severity of symptoms among participants would decrease, and that participants would also experience an improvement in their psychological well-being after treatment.

Subjects:  Subjects were 31 adults (9 men and 22 women) from 13 different states.  They ranged in age from 23 to 70, with the average age being 44.74.  Over 90% were Caucasian and marital status of the participants was varied.

Methodology: Sixty-six participants who attended 8 different EAET programs over an 8-month period were asked to participate in the study.  Of those who attended, 49 agreed to participate, and 31 of those completed all of the necessary follow-up data.  Only those 31 who provided all the necessary data were included in the study.  Participants were given a pre-test prior to treatment, a post-test with the same measurements immediately after the treatment, and a 6-month follow-up assessment by mail.  The treatment groups were led by psychotherapists who were certified in experiential therapy and had an average of 3 years of experience in EAET.  For instruction and safety purposes, the horse handler was also involved in the sessions.  Participants engaged in both equine activities, which included grooming, mounting, and walking, as well as therapy related activities, which included role-playing, role-reversal, and Gestalt techniques.

Two inventories were used to collect data.  The first was the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI).  The BSI includes 53 items designed to measure levels of clinical distress, and this is scored using the Global Severity Index (GSI).  A score of 63 on the GSI is indicative of pathological problems, and this score was used as the cut-off to indicate a significant change in clinical symptoms for this study.  Second, the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI) consists of 150 true/false questions designed to measure self-actualization.  Comparisons were made between pretest and posttest scores and between posttest and follow-up scores using a multivariate analysis of variance with a significance level set at 0.05.

Results:  Results of the BSI/GSI showed a significant decrease from pretest to posttest scores, and no significant difference between posttest and 6-month follow-up scores.  The results of the POI showed a significant increase in scores from the pretest to the posttest, and no significant difference between the posttest and 6-month follow-up.  These results support the authors’ hypotheses.  Participants experienced a decrease in severity of psychological symptoms, while also experiencing an increase in psychological well-being.  The results included reports of participants being more independent, more self-supportive, and less fearful of the future.

Limitations:  Less than half of the program participants completed the study, so it is not known if the results would have been different if they had included all 66 of the original participants.  Additionally, the study lacked a control or comparison group, and the sample was not randomized.  Finally, because the study relied on self-reporting, the accuracy of the participants’ answers is unknown.

Summary by Traci Raley, MS

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