Advantages of Pet Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Pet Therapy For Addiction TreatmentAny high-quality drug and alcohol rehab center will use a variety of evidence-based treatment methods for individuals recovering from addiction. These typically include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, 12-step facilitation therapy, and family behavior therapy, among others. But did you know pet therapy is also a commonly used treatment modality for individuals in addiction recovery?

This lesser-known yet growing therapeutic tool has proven itself to be especially beneficial in the area of substance abuse treatment, although it is used in many other scenarios as well.

What Is Pet Therapy?

According to Healthline, pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal.1 The primary purpose of pet therapy is to help individuals cope and recover from health problems, such as cancer, mental health disorders, or addiction.

Dogs and cats are most often used for pet therapy, but other animals are also beneficial in a therapeutic setting. The type of animal used will vary based on the person’s therapeutic goals or treatment program, but some animals commonly engaged in pet therapy include:

• Horses
• Fish
• Llamas
• Dolphins
• Guinea pigs

Pet therapy can be used in a variety of different situations and for a number of different health problems. Some of the most common ways pet therapy is used include:

• People with chronic diseases
• Hospitalized people
• Individuals with PTSD
• Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities
• People completing physical therapy
• Individuals with mental health problems
What Happens in a Pet Therapy Session?
Although pet therapy sessions will all look slightly different in varying situations, the end goal is the same: improve the client’s physical and mental well-being with animal interaction.

The animal(s) are typically brought into a hospital, home, or another type of care facility by a therapist. The pet therapist then guides the interaction between the animal and the client. For example, in a pet therapy session with a dog, the therapist may start things off by first asking if the client would like to pet the dog. If the client says yes, he or she would begin to pet the dog.

The client is invited to ask any questions that he or she wants to but, he or she may also just prefer to pet and talk to the dog. The timeframe for a pet therapy session will vary, but many clients find that whatever amount of time is spent with the animal, it is enjoyable.

Benefits of Pet Therapy in Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Research studies have shown that pet therapy provides several physical and mental benefits for patients in a variety of therapeutic settings. Within the realm of substance abuse treatment, one study found that the relationship between the client and the therapist was enhanced with the addition of a therapy dog.

Another pilot project focused on adults in detox and drug and alcohol rehab and fifty-six clients (46 males and 10 females) participated in the study. First of all, when the dogs were present, 56 percent of the participants interacted spontaneously with the animals and revealed specific personal information that related to violence, loss, self-esteem, family dynamics, and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

In addition, when some participants felt like they were rejected by the dogs, or that the dogs did not like them, 19 percent of the participants had a tendency to withdraw socially. In most of these cases, these participants admitted that their reaction to the dogs was similar to their behaviors, thoughts, and interactions with people as well. The therapist then led those participants in re-engaging with the dogs by modifying their behaviors, body language, and vocal signals to better communicate with the dogs.

Clearly, pet therapy provides a number of opportunities to develop social skills, improve communication, and expand one’s self-awareness. In addition to these benefits, there are also several more physical and mental benefits of pet therapy in alcohol and drug rehab.

Physical Benefits

• Reduces blood pressure
• Encourages relaxation
• Relieves pain
• Releases oxytocin (the “love hormone”) which combats depression1

Mental Benefits

• Improves mood
• Encourages communication
• Reduces feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and isolation
• Provides comfort
• Reduces stress
• Helps clients develop social skills
• Increases self-esteem

Pet therapy provides many essential benefits to those enrolled in an alcohol and drug rehab program, and many of the benefits will carry over into other areas of treatment, such as life skills development, family conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication.

Although pet therapy may not work for all clients, if given the option, a rehab center offering pet therapy may be a beneficial choice for a drug and alcohol rehab program.

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Written by Kelsey Brown, Guest Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

Edited by William Charles – Founder/Owner

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Author Bio: Kelsey Brown is a native of Chicago, IL and has always had a passion for writing. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Missouri State University and went on to write articles, website content, marketing materials, and more for a variety of different industries. Kelsey finds fulfillment in creating educational and meaningful content for those seeking addiction treatment. She regularly writes about a variety of topics related to substance abuse, including the science of addiction, drug and alcohol detox, long-term drug and alcohol rehab, intensive outpatient care, and transitional living for individuals in recovery. When she’s not writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment, Kelsey prefers to spend her free time outdoors, hiking, camping, or kayaking.

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