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A space of safety: Children's experience of equine‐assisted group therapy


Child & Family Social Work

Published online on


Owing to a shift in alcohol and other drug practice towards a more ecological understanding of the impact of problematic parental substance use, children who were previously forgotten by practitioners are increasingly being included in alcohol and other drug service provision. Occurring concurrently with these changes has been a boom in interest in non‐talk‐based therapies to enhance child well‐being. Examples of such therapeutic interventions include adventure‐based activities, theatre, yoga, music, and purposeful interaction with animals. The latter approach, increasingly delivered by social workers, is known as animal‐assisted therapy and involves the inclusion of animals in a goal‐directed intervention. Equine‐assisted therapy (EAT) is a specialised branch of animal‐assisted therapy in which horses are used to cofacilitate therapeutic interventions. Although EAT practitioners argue horses are uniquely effective therapeutic animals, a strong evidence base has not yet developed. The present study utilised qualitative methods to explore children's individual experiences of an EAT program. Thematic analysis of interview data found that EAT is beneficial to children experiencing problematic parental substance use as it offers an environment in which children can feel safe and secure and are supported to grow, personally and socially, by mastering fears, making new friends, and improving their interpersonal behaviours.