Date of Award

8-4-2015

Document Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Learning, Leadership, and Community

Department

Department of Educational Leadership, Learning, and Curriculum

Committee Chair

Christie Sweeney

Committee Member

Marcel Lebrun

Committee Member

Gail Mears

Abstract

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) are serious concerns for many combat veterans who have experienced violent and traumatic conflict. United States military veterans diagnosed with PTSD/TBI are a population who demonstrate treatment resistance to psychopharmacology (medication therapy)and more traditional “in office” talk therapies (Erbes, 2006).The focus of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT)for this population is on PTSD symptom mediation as opposed to trauma focus. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the impact of EAAT as a treatment modality for United States military veterans diagnosed with PTSD/TBI from their point of view. Seven veterans who had completed EAAT programs at Professional Association of Therapeutic Riding –International (PATH) accredited riding centers in New England were the participants in this study. Data was collected from demographic questionnaires, unstructured interviews and researcher field notes. Study outcomes identified three primary themes (self-awareness, accomplishment and belonging) and three secondary themes (safety, nonverbal communication and confidence) emergent from a foundational element (trust). Findings indicated that building a foundation of trust was essential for the active and continued participation of veterans in their EAAT program. This allowed veterans to remain engaged. Over time, veterans felt safe and they felt as if they belonged. The development of safety and belonging allowed for the growth of self-awareness, development of a sense of accomplishment, understanding of nonverbal communication, and confidence. As a result of participation in EAAT, veterans gained personal growth and understanding, which manifested as PTSD symptom reduction. These research findings support the use of EAAT as a complementary treatment modality for United States military veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

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