A WORLD-LEADING psychotherapist harnessing the bond between horses and humans to treat addiction and mental illnesses insists tackling deep-seated family troubles is crucial in aiding victims' recovery.

Don Lavender was speaking at the Renewal Centre in Swallowfield on Monday [11] before hosting a seminar outlining his innovative techniques to treat drug and alcohol dependency, trauma, depression and anxiety.

The American psychotherapist and author, who lives in Spain and runs the Camino Recovery Centre in Malaga, told the Chronicle before the meeting: "Often families point the finger at the patient but the whole family needs help in addiction and mental health the whole family system needs change."

Later he told psychology experts and addicts' families assembled in the audience: "Families are involved in addiction and it's appropriate they need a say in confronting it without blame or judgement. If you don't provide that care you can work with someone for a month and they will get as well as they can do, but they will head back into the system when they return home."

Mr Lavender outlined his pioneering equine-utilised psychotherapy treatment, a technique he began using with fellow therapists in America in 1989, encouraging patients to interact with horses to overcome deep psychological problems.

Patients are urged to whisper their thoughts and fears into the animals' ears while they stroke, groom or tend to them, before gaining confidence to lead them around lunge pens and riding them. More than 60 people a year undergo the therapy at his centre opting for sessions ranging from a day to six months.

He told the Chronicle: "When a human learns to connect with a human there is sometimes an agenda, but horses have no agenda and there is a warmth of connection and safety and healing occurs.

"People in rehab tend to have an isolative behaviour and working with horses allows them to tackle that isolation and reconnect with the self. Whatever you learn to accomplish with the horse can be taken and used in the real world in their the relationships."

He added: "It's a fascinatingly therapeutic intervention and we never thought people would take such an interest in it."

Contact 0118 988 3242 or email info@renewalcentre.co.uk for details of workshops, courses, seminars group therapy and counselling sessions held at the Renewal Centre.