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Los Angeles IOP Drug Rehab for Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Animal Assisted Therapy for Substance Abuse

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Drug treatment is not a “one size fits all” proposition. While therapy, 12-step support and life skills training are essential in helping you get sober, there may be other forms of therapy that may help you. On this post we will talk about one of these alternatives, animal assisted therapy.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

An increasing number of treatment facilities nationwide have been incorporating animal-assisted therapy into their substance abuse treatment programs. The benefits of animal-assisted therapy can be the breakthrough you need to achieve life-long recovery. There are different types of animal assisted programs available, some of them are mentioned below.

Equine and Dog Therapy in Addiction Treatment

While a wide variety of animals can be used in addiction therapy, two of the most popular therapy options are equine (horse) and dog therapy. Both therapies are very similar in respects to who can benefit from this therapy, the training of the animals and how sessions are conducted. Equine, dog and other forms of animal-assisted therapy are beneficial to those who feel emotionally vulnerable and isolated. This can be attributed to the roots of one’s addiction, including traumatic experiences, abuse, and death of a loved one.

The horses and dogs that are utilized in animal-assisted therapy programs go through extensive training to become therapy animals. Experienced handlers are present during therapy sessions in case clients have questions or need help. Animals that are used in therapy programs often were the victim of neglect and abuse and are rescues from shelters and non-profit rescue organizations.

Horse, dog and other animal-assisted therapy sessions involve a number of exercises carefully designed to develop and enhance verbal and non-verbal communication, problem-solving, leadership, creative thinking, relationship skills, trust, confidence, and responsibility. These activities can include guiding animals through obstacle courses, feeding and grooming, socialization activities, and obedience work.

Benefits of Pets and Animals in Addiction Therapy

Incorporating animal therapy into drug treatment programming can provide numerous benefits that can help addicts tackle their issues and grow. First and foremost, animals like horses and dogs are unconditional and non-judgmental. Animals have the distinct ability to mirror one’s behavior. If an addict is having issues interacting during a session, the animal will make that apparent with their behavior. Because of this mirroring behavior, addicts learn open up about the issues deeply rooted in their addiction.

Secondly, interacting with animals such as horses and dogs promote calm. Spending time with animals can help people overcome negative emotions and replace those thoughts with healthier positive emotions. Additionally, the act of betting an animal promotes the release of the brain chemical oxytocin. Oxytocin helps people feel more connected with others and is key in helping addicts find fulfillment in recovery.

Animal assisted therapy also increases physical activity. A huge part of animal-assisted therapy is taking horses, dogs and other animals for walks. The increase of physical activity helps release dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the brain’s natural “feel good” chemical and helps people feel relaxed, happy and content. Additionally, being around animals reduces feelings of loneliness and eases depression.

Animal Assisted Therapy Programs For Addiction Recovery

Animal-assisted therapy is one intervention that can help you get over the hump in your recovery. When you have made the decision to enter treatment, you must pursue every avenue in order to increase your chances of success. If you have been the commitment to sobriety, call NuView Integrative Recovery Center. Both are outpatient and sober living programs contain a wide variety of therapeutic interventions that can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

You may think that your addiction is too severe and that treatment would be a lost cause. The experienced treatment personnel at NuView will work with you every step of the way so you get the support you need to reach your goal—no matter how long it may take. Call NuView right now and take your first steps towards freedom.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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