After silently struggling with anxiety and depression, Selena Gomez canceled her world tour last year to spend 90 days in a Tennessee treatment center — where she took part in a rather unusual form of therapy that involves horses.
The 25-year-old singer credits equine therapy with helping her deal with her issues, and she opens up about it in a new interview with InStyle.com.
“I was in the countryside and never did my hair. I took part in equine therapy, which is so beautiful,” Gomez says. “And it was hard, obviously. But I knew what my heart was saying, and I thought, ‘OK, I think this has helped me become stronger for other people.’”
Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted psychotherapy, is used to help those with mental health issues ranging from behavioral issues to substance abuse — and in Gomez’s case, depression and anxiety. The sessions usually involve grooming, feeding, walking and playing games with the horses alongside a credentialed mental health professional and a qualified equine specialist.
Gomez also made the choice to cut herself off from the outside world, leaving her phone behind and focusing solely on her health.
“Everything I cared about, I stopped caring about,” Gomez said. “I came out, and it felt like, ‘OK, I can only go forward.’ And there are still days. I go to therapy. I believe in that and talking about where you are. But I’m in a really, really healthy place.”
While past research suggests that animals — pets, in particular — can have therapeutic benefits, horses are especially ideal as therapeutic companions. This is because they’ve evolved to be extremely sensitive to their environment, instinctively analyzing and reacting to humans’ body language to see if they can be trusted, says the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. However, once that trust is established, a horse makes for an intuitive companion and confidante.
Though equine therapy hasn’t been vetted by a scientific study yet, the anecdotal evidence supporting its effectiveness is growing, especially in regard to building trust and confidence.
“[Horses] allow patients to connect to a living being without the risk of rejection or criticism,” Sari Shepphird, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and eating disorder specialist in Los Angeles, explained to PsychCentral.com. “[Equine-assisted psychotherapy] makes the transition into healthy relationships less threatening.”
Since leaving the treatment center, Gomez has continued to undergo therapy and says it’s helped her deal with the stress of being in the public eye.
“That’s what I work on in therapy the most. Because of social media, because of all the pressure that girls have, it’s so difficult,” Gomez says. “It’s good to be connected, to see things and to get a sense of what your friends are up to. But it also allows people to think they need to look or be a certain way. I remember when I had my Disney show, I was just running around and not caring and making kids laugh. I was all over the place. And now it feels more zoomed-in — you have ugly people trying to get negative things from you, and the energy makes you feel bad about yourself. You can’t help it. It’s very hard to find out who you are during all that mess and pressure.”
Gomez also makes the crucial point that by being open about her mental health she is setting an example to her fans (more than 124 million on Instagram alone) that there is no stigma in getting help or taking care of yourself.
Unfortunately, many other female celebrities regularly face negativity on social media as well. Here’s how Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Lawrence have clapped back at body shamers and bullies.