Animal-assisted therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years. It has proven successful in treating a number of different mental health conditions. It has also begun to be used in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction.

Regular interaction with animals can provide a number of benefits for people. These benefits include lowered blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, reduced stress, and increased physical activity. Spending time with animals can also have a significant positive effect on an individual’s mental health.

Animal-assisted therapy is not used as a standalone treatment for addiction. Instead, it is used in combination with other forms of treatment. This can maximize the overall results of treatment and increase a person’s motivation to stay in treatment.

How Does Animal-Assisted Therapy For Addiction Work?

When used in the treatment of substance use disorders, animal-assisted therapy often involves including a trained animal in individual and group therapy sessions. During the sessions, individuals are able to interact with the animals. Only trained animals are used in animal-assisted therapy.

Patients must agree to participate in animal-assisted therapy. Individuals with a history of harming animals or who have animal phobias should not participate in this form of therapy.

Before patients begin animal-assisted therapy, education will be provided regarding the specific type of animal and the best way to interact with the animal. For example, the animal’s body language and behaviors will be explained so the patient knows what to expect. Additionally, patients will be taught which parts of the animal can be touched and which parts should be avoided.

Common animals that participate in animal-assisted therapy include:

  • horses
  • dogs
  • cats
  • pigs
  • birds
  • rabbits
  • llamas

There is no conclusive research as to whether one animal is more effective than another for animal-assisted therapy. However, dogs and horses are the most common animals used in this type of therapy.

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Benefits Of Animal-Assisted Therapy In The Treatment Of Addiction

Incorporating animal-assisted therapy into a comprehensive addiction treatment program can have a number of benefits. One of the most significant benefits of animal-assisted therapy is the strengthening of the “therapeutic alliance” between patient and therapist.

Therapeutic alliance refers to the relationship between the client and therapist. The stronger the therapeutic alliance, the better the outcome for the patient. In fact, several studies have shown that therapeutic alliance can positively impact a person’s likelihood of successfully completing treatment and remaining sober.

Animal-assisted therapy has also shown to reduce a person’s anxiety surrounding addiction treatment. Many people struggle with the thought of long-term sobriety and may experience anxiety during treatment as a result. The incorporation of animal therapy into a treatment program can help ease a person’s tension and promote a person’s willingness to participate in treatment.

Additionally, animal-assisted therapy can support an addiction treatment program by providing the opportunity to use therapeutic touch to reduce distress and anxiety. Therapists are generally unable to physically touch patients. However, physical touch has shown to provide reassurance and support, especially in a treatment environment. Being able to physically touch animals can ease anxiety and promote feelings of closeness and safety.

Animal-assisted therapy can provide support in other areas of recovery as well. This form of treatment has been shown to boost confidence and improve a person’s overall mood during treatment. This can increase the likelihood of a patient successfully completing a treatment program.

Is Animal-Assisted Therapy Right For You?

Animal-assisted therapy has been proven to be effective as part of a treatment plan for a wide variety of mental health conditions and substance use disorders. However, this type of therapy is not suited for everyone.

People who may not benefit from or who should not participate in animal-assisted therapy include:

  • individuals with past trauma related to animals
  • people with a history of abusing animals
  • individuals who are afraid of animals
  • people who dislike animals or who have no desire to work with them
  • patients who have allergies to animals
  • individuals with religious beliefs related to animals that would prevent them from participating in animal-assisted therapy

Speaking with a therapist can help determine if animal-assisted therapy is right for you. This type of therapy will be part of a comprehensive approach to recovery from addiction.

Finding An Addiction Treatment Program That Uses Animal-Assisted Therapy

Many people can benefit from animal-assisted therapy as part of an overall addiction treatment program. Several rehab facilities throughout the nation provide this form of therapy for patients looking to overcome a substance disorder. The Treehouse, an Addiction Campuses’ treatment facility in Scurry, Texas, offers equine therapy for individuals struggling with addiction.

To learn more about animal-assisted therapy for addiction treatment, contact an Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialist today.