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Horse Therapy: The Can Praxis Model

by C. Randy Duncan, Steve Critchley, and Jim Marland

The rehabilitation challenges faced by veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including operational stress injury (OSI), are monumental and exacerbated by unfinished business. The lack of deprogramming and support for veterans to transition from a combat role to a civilian role typically results in individuals who constantly maintain an edge, and who can, in a given moment overreact, becoming too angry, too aggressive, and/or too anxious. Consequently, this road has all too often led to a diagnosis of PTSD, which we believe is tantamount to calling a veteran ‘weak,’ and is perhaps the worst label one can attach to a soldier. So, veterans battling the dissonance between being labelled ‘weak,’ and wanting to be strong, are not well prepared to talk about their problems, to be emotionally connected partners in personal relationships, and/or to integrate back into civilian life. If veterans with PTSD are unable to find a way to communicate effectively within their civilian relationships, their comfort zone will continue to shrink until their relationships are beyond repair, or, worse yet, the only thing left for them is to be the next one to ‘lay down in front of a GO Train in Toronto.’

There has been rapidly growing interest in Canada with respect to the association of ‘horse therapy,’ or equine assisted learning (EAL), for treating individuals suffering from the effects of OSI. Subsequently, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has come under increasing pressure to fund appropriate and complementary treatment therapies for veterans in more conventional treatment tracks for OSI. The decision by VAC to fund a portion of the pilot testing of the Can Praxis EAL program in 2013 comes on the heels of a joint initiative of VAC and the Department of National Defence (DND) to develop a mental health strategy to enhance the supports and services provided to the growing number of veterans with OSI. In Canada, over the past decade, the number of VAC clients identified as having OSI has increased from 3500 to more than 11,000. Consequently, combat PTSD is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition affecting Canadian veterans, derived from the reality of almost 60 percent of VAC clients having received a favourable decision for disability benefits having OSI.

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