Lifeline Connections

Therapy Pets Assist Those in Recovery Treatment

Research studies and news articles have been documenting the therapeutic effects domestic animals have on human recovery for years. When someone who suffers from an acute or chronic illness is placed with a therapy pet, they experience benefits like lower stress levels, diminishment of anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and even, in some cases, the reduction of severity of physical pain. Furthermore, an emotional bond usually develops between the person and the animal, a relationship that encourages healing and recovery in the individual. This exchange that generally manifests within human-pet relationships is what makes animals such a natural fit in the process of recovery. The success animal-assisted therapy has had in promoting healing and well-being has inspired more therapy pet programs to be developed in health centers, such as nursing homes, and a greater variety of animal therapy programs that expand from the traditional models.

As a result of the positive effects animal-assisted therapy has had in encouraging recovery amongst the ill, a growing number of treatment centers are including and developing their own animal-assisted treatment programs to help those recovering from addiction. Some treatment centers allow patients to bring their pets with them. Allowing the individual to have a little piece of home makes them less likely to leave treatment prematurely. Other treatment centers have designated therapy pets which patients interact with and care for. Some examples of this are treatment centers Recovery Ranch and Hazelden, which offer equine therapy to their patients. At these centers, people recovering from addiction interact with horses, benefiting from an outdoor therapy experience that helps them rebuild confidence, trust, and self-esteem. The presence of the animals at the treatment center encourages relationship-building and healing. Patients not only find physical healing from their addiction at the treatment center, but through their interactions with the therapy animals, find some sense of emotional healing as well.

At these treatment centers that offer animal-assisted therapy, addiction treatment focuses on two main goals: building nurturing relationships and reassuming adult responsibility. The therapy animals help the patients achieve both of these goals. On an emotional level, the therapy animals enliven, encourage, and console the patients. The therapy animals give love and affection without judgment, respond positively to demonstrations of affection from patients, and encourage playfulness. This prompts patients to feel more confident in opening up, showing affection, and building emotional bonds. As well as bonding with the patients, the therapy pets are usually also placed under the care of a patient, and therefore, are dependent on the patient for their care. Being held accountable and responsible for a therapy animal’s well-being helps the recovery patient to re-build his feelings of self-worth. By facing the manageable, yet firm responsibility of caring for a therapy pet, the patient is urged to step outside of himself and develop meaning and purpose through tasking and providing love and companionship for another living creature. This develops purpose and proactivity where there was once only dependency. By building up their confidence in their abilities to develop good relationships and take responsibility, patients who are in recovery for addiction start to feel more empowered and self-esteem in their pursuit to live sober. Animal therapy, therefore, becomes both a healing and learning experience.

For the time being, there are few treatment centers that offer animal-assisted therapy. Special licensing and the need for additional staff makes it difficult for more centers to offer these types of programs. However, the growing popularity of the program and its positive results makes it likely that more treatment centers are likely to offer animal-assisted therapy in the future. It can hardly be argued the benefits that an animal therapy treatment center in Portland could offer to those in recovery, helping them reclaim confidence in themselves through the love and affection given by therapy pets.

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