Psychotherapy Incorporating Horses to Address Anxiety in Women College Students: A Pilot Study

Erika L. Berg1, Amber R. Bach-Gorman2, Carolyn J. Hammer1

1Department of Animal Sciences, North Dakota State University
2Counseling Center, North Dakota State University

An annual 2019 survey of directors of college counseling centers reported that 60.7% of students seeking counseling present with the predominant concern of anxiety. Furthermore, counseling centers across the United States have seen a rise in the number of students requesting services in recent years, frequently resulting in wait lists for students to receive counseling. Group psychotherapy sessions may mitigate wait times; however due to student anxiety and negative stigma surrounding mental health treatment it can often be challenging to attract students to participate in groups compared to individual sessions. This pilot study aimed to investigate the efficacy of group psychotherapy incorporating equines for undergraduate women college students presenting with concerns of anxiety. Implementing the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s model of psychotherapy, six women participants attended one 90-minute group session per week for 7 weeks on the campus of North Dakota State University. Students completed the Self Compassion Scale (SCS) and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS) at weeks 0 and 7 as pre and post measures of the intervention. A significant increase was observed in the common humanity subscale of the SCS; however, no other differences were found in the remaining SCS subscales nor in the DASS subscales. Anecdotally, multiple students expressed that they would not have persisted in coming to group without the horses present. Furthermore, there was markedly improved attendance rates in the psychotherapy incorporating equine group compared to other group therapies at the counseling center. We recommend that future research examine whether psychotherapy integrating both horses and the tenets of self-compassion can help woman college students improve their anxiety management skills and become more resilient.
Keywords: psychotherapy, equines, anxiety, college counseling, undergraduate students

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Keywords: anxiety, college counseling, equines, psychotherapy, undergraduate students
Posted in Volume 9, No. 3