Matthew Ryba, a Marine Corps veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, understands what changes a soldier’s mind goes through by living in a combat zone.
Many soldiers are left with post-traumatic stress disorder which can be very debilitating.
It has been shown by new research that equine therapy may help in healing these veterans.
Participants of the program learn about horses, cleaning their hooves, stroking their sides, and building trust with the animals.
Veterans Struggling With PTSD Could Be Helped Through Equine Therapy
Ryba said that they say that a lot of people in the study who were not open to going to normal therapy due to misconceptions about mental health therapy which stemmed from a sense of not needing help due to the fact that they were military service members and that they were stronger than this type of thing.
Ryba is the director of community outreach and education for the Military Family Wellness Center at New York Colombia University Medical Center.
He said that when he realized that instead of calling it a dependent relationship with the horse if they were treated as equals with the emotional balance with the horse, the veterans quickly understood that maybe they really did need some help with their mental health.
He added that it was a massive stepping stone for the veterans into therapy that was more traditional.
The attack that caused the death of dozens of people, including 13 people of the US military and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last week is bringing up a lot of memories for soldiers.
Ryba said that they were at a very pivotal moment where programs such as this one and veterans who are supported by other such programs are supremely important.
He added that suicide rates were at a continuous rise and that support was needed from the public as these problems are only getting worse and funding is required to continue this kind of research so that veterans can obtain help when they need it.
Equine therapy was assessed by the study. This program is also known as the Man O’ War project for veterans.
The founders of the equine therapy project are Prudence Fisher, a research scientist at New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Yuval Neria, professor of medical psychology at Colombia University Medical Center.
The recruiting of vets for the program was done by Ryba.
Fisher said that they were very open to the prospect that this project may not even work.
63 veterans were enrolled in the program between 2016 and 2019. These veterans had PTSD and were of a wide range of ages.
A clinician assessed their PTSD, in addition to self-reporting prior to the program, during treatment, and after treatment.
The participants were grouped by researchers into teams of 4 veterans and 2 horses, paired with a mental health professional, an equine expert, and a third person who would keep an eye on proceedings.
8 weeks of 90-minute sessions were conducted with the participants and the horses.
They were asked to talk about their PTSD, but not particularly about their trauma.
The researchers also worked with manual writers, in addition to recording and assessing the process, to create a book that detailed the therapy protocol. This was done to provide a blueprint for programs in the future.
It was found that real promise was shown by equine-assisted therapy.
He said that their study suggests that it could work, but what they were looking is whether a specific type works.
He added that it is a good indication that it works, and it can potentially be really helpful to veterans.