Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Phillips, Tommy M

Committee Member

Christiansen, David L

Committee Member

Nicodemus, Molly C

Committee Member

Peter L Ryan

Committee Member

Rude, Brian J

Other Advisors or Committee Members

Galarneau, Karen D

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

Complete embargo for 2 years

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Animal Physiology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


Department of Agricultural Information Science and Education


With overdose deaths and residential addiction treatment admittance increasing, more treatment options are necessary to meet the demand of services. Equine assisted psychotherapy and learning (EAPL) is a relatively new therapeutic tool in addiction treatment for individuals battling substance use disorder (SUD), and thus, lacks a solid evidence base to be implemented consistently and effectively. The purpose of this dissertation was to determine the effectiveness of EAPL in creating an emotionally safe environment for learning for college-age young adults with a particular focus on those struggling with SUD. This was accomplished in a series of projects focused on: 1) implementing evaluation methodology for tracking emotional safety and learning in young adults participating in equine interaction activities without therapeutic intentions, 2) determining the relationship between physiological responses and emotional safety and learning in young adults participating in outpatient EAPL programming for SUD, and 3) evaluating the treatment outcomes associated with emotional safety and learning for young adults with SUD participating in EAPL at a residential treatment facility. Each project utilized the same three evaluations for evaluating emotional safety and learning: 1) emotional safety evaluation, 2) equine knowledge exam, and 3) physical skills evaluation. In each of the studies, a correlation was found between emotional safety and equine knowledge and handling skills for college-age young adults, however, equine interaction with therapeutic intentions revealed a stronger correlation indicating it is not just the horse that provides the mental health benefits. An emotionally safe environment for learning, was established for college-age young adults within a residential treatment facility, this was not dependent on the length of stay or level of participation suggesting this is an efficient therapeutic option for SUD for this population. Emotional safety for the college-age young adults participating in EAPL was correlated to vital sign measurements, but vital sign measurements of young adults were independent of the vital signs of the therapy horse. Each of the three projects provided vital information filling the gap of knowledge surrounding EAPL as an effective clinical intervention strategy for SUD in college-age young adults and created a basis for further research using more objective measures.