Behavioral and physiological effects of horse-assisted therapy for mother-child pairs with insecure attachment

Denise Viktoria Hebesberger
2013 unpublished
The aim of this study was to investigate effects of equine-assisted early intervention for mother-child dyads with an attested insecure attachment style. The theoretical basis is the so called "underlying mechanisms" of human-animal interactions. Contact between humans and animals can facilitate an increased secretion of the hormone oxytocin which can induce an alleviation of human's stress-response and furthermore can pave the way towards enhanced attachment security of clients within an
more » ... eutic setting. To trace effects back on the presence of the horse during the intervention a comparative procedure was conducted. Thus, 20 mother-child dyads with insecure attachment were randomly assigned to either a horse-assisted or a play-intervention setting. Effects of eight weekly intervention sessions on mothers' caregiving behavior, mothers' and children's stress response (HPA-axis via salivary cortisol and SAM-axis via heart rate and heart rate variability monitoring) as well as on the relation between clients and therapists were analyzed. Behavioral data were collected via video recordings which were coded for further analysis. The horse-assisted setting promoted significantly enhanced body contact as well as an enhanced vocal exchange between mothers and infants. Participants in the horse-assisted intervention showed a significantly higher sympathetic activation (indicated by higher heart rates), participants of the play-intervention showed a significantly higher parasympathetic activation (indicated by higher heart rate variability values). A decrease of HPA-axis activity during the sessions was just found in two sessions of the horse-assisted intervention, but this pattern was not continuous. Comparing talking intensity between mothers and therapists, mothers obtaining play-intervention spent more time talking to the therapists. Hence, when conceptualizing intervention-programs for mother-child dyads with insecure attachment a combination of sessions in a play-intervention and a horse-assisted setting should [...]
doi:10.25365/thesis.30011 fatcat:h6wmphq66rfqlps7nnr5sdbrwi