Addiction Therapy: Nuzzles and Pats Help Heal

Sometimes, all you need to feel better is a good belly rub. That is the core belief behind animal assisted therapy, an approach to healing that pairs human patients with dogs, rabbits, horses, dolphins and even monkeys or llamas.

A Therapeutic Relationship

For people recovering from addiction, the type of attention, affirmation and unconditional love that sometimes can come only from an animal is a very important part of their healing process. According to the Addiction Recovery Guide, there are many benefits to the interaction between patients in recovery and their furry companions, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger and anxiety, improved social functioning and increased feelings of empowerment, trust patience and self-esteem.

Treatment Centers Recognize Benefits

It is not unusual to see animal assisted therapy listed among the programs offered by addiction treatment centers. The Ranch, a facility in Tennessee, takes animal-assisted therapy one step further with their program called "Animal-Assisting Therapy for Addiction," which focuses not only on patient benefits, but on the benefits participating animals receive as well. Deviating from therapy programs which use specially trained animals, The Ranch pairs recovering addicts with homeless, abused and abandoned animals. The program coordinators believe that caring for an animal with a similarly wounded spirit intensifies the redemptive effects of the therapy, resulting in physical, emotional and psychological improvements for both the patient and the animal.

At Alta Mira in California, patients are offered equine therapy and are allowed to bring their pets with them while they undergo treatment. Although Alta Mira acknowledges that the hard evidence of animal assisted therapy’s benefits is still scant, anecdotal evidence at their treatment center has led them to conclude that "animals play a key role in the healing process."

Beyond Addiction

Animal-assisted programs are not limited to treating people who are fighting addiction. The therapeutic benefits of a wet nose rubbing against your hand and a playful scratch behind the ears can help people facing many types of emotional, physical and psychological challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, autism, cerebral palsy, high blood pressure and social phobia.

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