What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

A man in an office petting his dog.

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Early recovery is not always a walk in the park for everyone. Not to say it is not greener on the other side. Recovery just involves pure dedication, strong consistency, and major sacrifice to maintain long-term success. Although one has completed addiction or mental health treatment, this does not mean triggers will no longer be an issue. In fact, when transitioning back into society, unwanted triggers may be even more problematic for some at the start. This can be due to a lack of direct support. Incorporating animal-assisted therapy with other forms of support can be a complementary way to stay on track while in recovery. 

Challenges of Early Recovery

Life after treatment requires significant change for one to overcome their past addictive behaviors and negative thought patterns. Sometimes looking into aftercare services and working with a recovery coach can be enough support for those who are facing challenges while in recovery. A recovery coach can provide resources, information, and new opportunities for further involvement with the community. Joining an alumni program can also be helpful as one may confide in peers and find sober activities to partake in for a healthy distraction.

In early recovery, an individual may take this time to remove toxic relationships, discontinue bad habits, and sometimes even relocate for a fresh start. Therefore, early recovery can be very lonely at the beginning. Some individuals turn to an intimate relationship for support. A relationship often requires one to take time from themselves for their partner’s needs. An individual is encouraged to wait to start dating until at least one year after treatment as recovery demands one to focus on major self-improvement before getting too involved with someone else. Although there are many different forms of support available to the public, sometimes an individual who feels alone may respond better to other treatment options such as pet-friendly care.

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Sometimes an individual may need a loyal companion to explore the wilderness with, attend sober events, or just simply have a loving friend to come home to. Thus, animal-assisted therapy can be very helpful. 

According to Heart Views, recent studies have proven that animals can help improve an individual’s mood and overall health. Animal-assisted therapy can be a complementary or alternative approach to traditional talk therapy. The client and therapist can work with a pet and outline their goals while doing therapeutic activities together. Animal-assisted therapy can provide an individual with confidence going in. It can help an individual overcome addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions as they may feel more comfortable opening up in each session. 

Value of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Conforming to the aforementioned journal, pets have been shown to provide several health benefits. Petting, playing, or even watching animal activities have proven to decrease cortisol levels and increase serotonin production in an individual’s body. Animals have provided individuals with several mental and physical health benefits since ancient times, making one feel less stressed. Animal-assisted therapy may : 

  • Ease loneliness
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Promote social interaction
  • Encourage exercise and playfulness
  • Increase focus and attention
  • Enhance one’s ability to trust and participate
  • Provide unconditional love and affection

Based on the
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a study proved that animal-assisted therapy has shown positive treatment results for those with addiction and mental health conditions. Those who participated in the program presented significant improvement in their ability to perform daily skills. They showed reduced impulsivity which enabled them to achieve a higher level of self-control for a better quality of life. Furthermore, it was concluded that animal-assisted therapy is a very effective treatment option for those who are facing problems with a dual diagnosis. 

Moving Forward With Pet-Friendly Treatment

Many individuals may not be aware of animal-assisted therapy as it is a unique treatment approach. Oftentimes, animals are not allowed on any premises. Therefore, the thought of a pet in an office may not even cross an individual’s mind. If one has never had a pet one may not understand the health benefits that they do provide. An individual may find great comfort in cuddling a dog, petting a cat, walking a horse, or even sitting with a parrot! Exploring a holistic approach to care may sometimes be perceived as less effective. A friendly pet may save an individual’s life through solace and heartwarming encouragement. 

Animal-Assisted Therapy as a Complementary Approach

Animal-assisted therapy in combination with other forms of care can ensure a strong path forward through additional love and support. Different forms of professional care that may work well pet friendly treatment might include: 

  • Sober living programs
  • 12-Step facilitation
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family programs
  • Trauma-informed care

Depending on the facility chosen, a specialist may be open to using pet-friendly treatment to accommodate their client’s needs. Different
types of therapy one may find compatible with animal-assisted treatment might include: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (MBSR)
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)