Animal-Assisted Therapy and its Role in Recovery

Animal-assisted therapy is becoming a more popular way to treat mental health and substance use disorders. When people interact with animals, several changes in the brain and body occur. For example, studies show that a pet can change the body’s stress response, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. Owning a pet also promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle that lowers the risk for high cholesterol and obesity.

Recognizing the role that animals play in our lives, Acceptance Recovery Center is proud to offer a comprehensive treatment program that offers animal-assisted therapy. We find that as clients learn to adjust to a life of sobriety, pets are incredible assets. They are non-judgemental, non-threatening and great listeners.

Below you’ll find more information about the benefits of animal-assisted therapy and what to expect from our very own canine therapists.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of alternative treatment. It is most effective when combined with other forms of therapy, such as individual or group counseling. Many different animals can be used in this treatment, including dogs, horses, rabbits and birds.

Pet therapy is flexible, making it easy to meet the individual needs of the client. For example, this therapy can be delivered in multiple settings like hospitals, mental health facilities and addiction treatment centers. It can also take place individually or in groups.

There is more to animal-assisted therapy than just spending time with pets. A qualified therapist or professional leads the therapy session, and each client has individual goals and outcomes. Some of the things a person might do include brushing, walking, petting and caring for the animal. These actions allow the person to develop a positive relationship with the pet while promoting self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.

Benefits of Working with Therapeutic Animals

People in recovery often have a hard time opening up because they are afraid of being judged. However, being honest and transparent is an important step in the recovery journey. Fortunately, building a relationship with an animal is a helpful way to open up. Animals are accepting and non-judgemental. There are no moments of awkward silence or feelings of opposition that can occur with friends or family.

Here are some of the benefits of animal-assisted therapy for those in recovery.

  • Improved self-esteem. Spending time with animals increases self-esteem. People in recovery learn how to care for a pet, which in turn gives them the confidence to take care of themselves.
  • Reduced anxiety. Animals have a positive effect on physical health, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate. This helps people feel less anxious and gives them greater control of their behaviors and actions.
  • Better social skills. Having a pet prevents isolation and builds social skills. For example, dog owners take their dogs for walks and bring them to dog parks where they meet people in the neighborhood.
  • Increased trust and empathy. When people are using drugs and alcohol, they have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships. It can take time to rebuild these connections, but animals are always ready and willing to form these ties.
  • Express inner emotions. It’s also common for recovering addicts to express their emotions. Walking, playing and caring for animals helps them process unresolved trauma and work through their emotions.

How Animals Can Prevent Relapse

Animals have been used for over a century to help people manage and recover from illness, disability and other conditions. Canine therapy, in particular, is widely accepted as a complementary part of holistic addiction treatment. Even after treatment, having a dog can help a person stay sober by keeping them active, reducing stress and loneliness and providing a sense of purpose.

Furthermore, dogs have an impact on the brain. When a person spends time with a dog, serotonin, oxycontin and dopamine increase in the brain. These endorphins boost the mood and provide recovering addicts with an alternative way to “feel good” without drugs or alcohol. These benefits are instrumental in preventing relapse, especially in the early days of recovery when people are most vulnerable.

Even those who turned to substance abuse because of chronic pain find benefits in working with pets. One study found that therapy dogs reduced self-reported pain, fatigue and emotional distress in people with fibromyalgia. By helping chronic pain patients manage their symptoms, they are less likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

Starting Animal-Assisted Therapy

If you think that an animal-assisted therapy program can help you or a loved one, the first step is to find a treatment center that offers this type of therapeutic care. Acceptance Recovery Center is proud to have two therapy dogs at our facility who are eager to meet you! We have one small breed and one larger breed to meet our clients’ needs. We also have offsite equine therapy sessions for those who prefer working with horses.

Some of our clients are distant and emotionally numb when starting treatment, but this doesn’t last long when introduced to our therapy dogs. We find that our clients focus more on the animal and less on themselves. This builds emotional responsiveness, trust and empathy. Clients who have a hard time accessing their emotions or expressing themselves have the most to gain from our canine therapists.

To start your recovery journey, or learn more about animal-assisted therapy, contact Acceptance Recovery Center today. We look forward to helping you discover your self-esteem and self-worth through a number of holistic therapies.