Equine-assisted therapy for primary school children with physical disabilities : a psychosocial view
This study endeavours to understand the psychosocial functioning of primary school children involved in a therapeutic horse-riding program. A qualitative study was done using an exploratory research design. Much research has been documented regarding the physical benefits of equineassisted therapy. Little research has however been done regarding the psychosocial functioning of children involved in such projects, and in the field of social work, not much research has been conducted to the knowledge of the researcher. This study was thus motivated by the current lack of research in this area and by the desire to discover whether this form of therapy has a place within the social work field. The literature study firstly explored the various physical disabilities that are most commonly encountered in the therapeutic riding world, namely cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. The developmental milestones of the primary school child were explored with a view to how these physical disabilities may effect the reaching of these developmental milestones. The concept of rehabilitation psychology was then explored, comparing it with various social work methods, popular theories and perspectives and it was found that there were many overlaps in the two fields. Lastly, the literature study looked at equine-assisted therapy and research that has already been done on this topic. The empirical investigation consisted of case studies on five primary school children from Astra School for the Physically Disabled. A qualitative investigation was done, by means of a focus group held with various key team players in the therapy such as the physiotherapists and riding instructors. Individual interviews were then held with each of the five children. An interview guide was used for both the focus group and the individual interviews. The findings of the investigation were in line with what was found in the literature study, namely that these physically disabled children struggled in reaching their psychosocial developmental milestones. The riding however was shown to have made a significant contribution in the areas of social participation, confidence, selfimage, emotional control, discipline and cognitive and educational stimulation in each of the five children concerned. Rehabilitation philosophy and psychology were found to be in line with much of what social work aims to achieve. In light of the fact that equine-assisted therapy was shown to be a viable means of rehabilitation, and therefore a viable means of reaching social work goals with physically disabled clients, recommendations were made in terms of social work practice, social work theory, social work training, social work research and social work policy regarding the physically disabled client.