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Animals Aiding in Addiction Treatment

By: Carol Morriscey

The unique connection between animals and humans is being harnessed in addiction treatment, in the form of Animal Assisted Therapy. What is Animal Therapy?

There is nothing quite as comforting as having the unconditional love and acceptance of an animal. This unique connection is being harnessed in addiction treatment, in the form of Animal Assisted Therapy. Animal Assisted Therapy consists of an animal, such as a cat, dog, or horse, being incorporated in the treatment regimen. Often, simple interactions with the animals can be helpful in developing stronger bonds between the patient and the therapist. However, more structured interactions, such as setting certain goals for the patient to work toward with the animal, can assist in fostering confidence and goal setting, and can establish a sense of achievement for the patient.

How does it help with Addiction Treatment?

Animal Assisted Therapy can enhance the typical therapy provided to individuals with addictions. For example, the use of therapy dogs at an inpatient drug rehab centre helped patients open up to therapists about their pasts. Often, while in the presence of the dogs the patients were more comfortable discussing experiences with their therapist, which had been difficult to share in the past. Indeed, the incorporation of therapy dogs facilitated a trusting relationship between the patient and therapist, that had not been present before.

Not only does Animal Assisted Therapy promote trust, allowing the patient to confide in the therapist, but it also helps the patient develop important life skills. Reintegration into mainstream society, such as finding a new job and hobbies and becoming a part of communities, is a crucial part of the addiction recovery process. However, this can often be a difficult transition for a recovering addict. At times, it is the isolation which results from poor communication skills and negative assessments of others’ actions which lead to addiction in the first place. Therefore, learning the skills to build healthy relationships and become involved in society must be learned in the recovery process.

When a dog did not initially interact with the patient in the desired manner, the patient was coached on how to change their approach. The patients learned to address their self-defeating thought processes, such as unrealistic expectations, as well as their communication skills. Just like humans, dogs respond to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Patients were taught to adjust their communication styles to initiate and maintain more successful interactions with the dogs. The skills learned while interacting with therapy dogs are transferable to humans, thus improving interactions and personal relationships.

Animal Assisted Therapy also helps reduce anxiety and depression in patients recovering from addiction. Having an unconditional friend, who does not judge a patient for their addiction, is a priceless tool in the recovery process. Empathy, compassion, and understanding are necessary for a full recovery. Given that mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are closely associated with addiction, it is important to address them throughout the recovery process, promoting a holistic, lifelong recovery.

Bringing your Dog to Drug Rehab

Shockingly, it is not only the unwavering love that animals give us which may be improving our mood. Recent studies have shown that living with a dog introduces new organisms to our microbiome. It looks like these new organisms may be responsible for improving our mood when we’re around dogs. Thus, it appears that the antidepressant effects of dogs may not be related solely to oxytocin. Taking advantage of the mood-boosting effects of dogs, Searidge Foundation allows patients to bring their pet dogs along while they are in drug or alcohol rehab. This facilitates a comfortable environment for the patient, as they receive first-class treatment for their addiction.

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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals
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