Man’s Best Friend: Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-Assisted TherapyAnimal-assisted therapy has progressed well beyond the remarkable world of seeing-eye dogs. Horses, dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals have been enlisted to help mobility-impaired individuals, to sense the onset of illnesses through their enhanced olfactory senses, and now to aid individuals who are suffering from depression or anxiety, or any of the addiction maladies that often accompany those psychological disorders. If you are experiencing a medical problem in one of these spectra and other therapies have been ineffective, you should consider the benefits that a therapy animal can bring.

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Addiction Recovery

Clinical researchers have concluded that in many cases, humans are able to form an emotional bond with an animal more quickly than they can with other humans. Studies have also revealed that those emotional bonds can help reduce a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. These interactions can also alleviate anger and anxiety while improving social interactions. Animals are non-judgmental and display unconditional affection when they are treated properly. Interactions with larger animals, such as horses, also places individuals in an outdoor setting that can further enhance their moods and improve self-esteem.

Drug addicts and alcoholics who are struggling with recovery can benefit from animal-assisted therapy by teaching them to reach outside of themselves to care for another living being and to accept responsibility for that care. As a recovering addict’s relationship with a therapy animal grows, his own self-confidence will grow, allowing him to distance himself from the weaknesses that led to his addiction. This further empowers a recovering addict to stay with his pursuit of a sober lifestyle.

Seeking Animal-Assisted Therapy

Therapists who incorporate animal-assisted therapy into their treatment programs will start slowly to confirm that an individual is capable of handling the responsibility for animal care and that he can develop a bond with a particular animal. Trainers and handlers will observe the interactions for at least the first several meetings. As the bond begins to develop, the trainer will allow his patient and the animal to spend greater amounts of time together. This process will continue simultaneously with other group and individual therapy that a person might be receiving. As with other addiction recovery treatments, animal-assisted therapy is not a panacea, but is instead one of several tools that a therapist will use to help a addict break his connection to drugs or alcohol.

No specific protocol has been established for the incorporation of animal-assisted therapy into a general rehab program. An addict who is interested in animal-assisted therapy will need to ask about that therapy, and he may need to write his own protocol in conjunction with his counselors to integrate animal-assisted therapy into the bigger picture of his recovery. Addiction counselors who are more progressive or aggressive will generally be more amenable to suggestions for alternative therapies like this.


For more information about using animal-assisted therapy in your drug addiction or alcoholism rehab program, please call Sustain Recovery Services at (949) 407-9052. We will discuss all available options with you and provide suggestions for specific animal-assisted therapy programs that can help you.