Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1164–1172 | Cite as

Effects of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy on Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Youth

  • Megan Kiely MuellerEmail author
  • Leslie McCullough
Original Paper


Equine-assisted therapy has become an increasingly popular complementary mental health treatment approach, but there is limited empirical research assessing the effectiveness of this practice. In particular, equine-facilitated psychotherapy has many potential benefits for the treatment of trauma in youth. The purpose of the proposed study was to investigate changes in levels of post-traumatic stress symptomatology and levels of the human-animal bond in children and adolescents ages 10–18 over the course of a 10-week equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) intervention. Youth in the treatment group (n = 36) participated in 10 weekly two hour EFP sessions, and were compared on changes in post-traumatic stress symptoms with a control group of participants (n = 32) who continued to receive the already existing traditional therapeutic services provided by their treatment facility or outpatient therapist. Findings suggested a significant decrease in post-traumatic stress symptoms across the intervention for both the treatment and control group, but the treatment group did not decrease significantly more than the control group. These findings suggest that EFP may be an effective additional treatment modality for post-traumatic stress symptoms, but there was no evidence from this initial study that EFP was significantly more effective than traditional office-based therapy. Further research and discussion of the relative benefits of EFP compared to traditional treatment modalities is warranted.


Equine-facilitated psychotherapy Equine-assisted therapy Post-traumatic stress disorder Trauma 



This study was funded by the Horses and Humans in Research Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Megan Mueller formerly served on the Board of Directors of Touchstone Farm, one of the research study sites. Leslie McCullough is a consultant and EFP practitioner on a part-time basis at Hope and Healing Academy, the second research site.

Ethical Approval

All human subjects procedures for this study were approved by the Tufts University Institutional Review Board were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent (parent/guardian consent and youth assent) was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. In addition, all applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed, and study procedures were approved by the Tufts University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical Sciences, Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts Institute for Human-Animal InteractionCummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts UniversityNorth GraftonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Social WorkWashburn UniversityTopekaUSA

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