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Animal Assisted Therapy for Addiction

A close up shot of a hand petting a kitten.
Petting an animal can reduce stress levels and cause a spike in the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

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Especially at first, most of us don’t find therapy sessions to be all that comfortable. You feel vulnerable, raw and emotional. It’s pretty much the opposite of numbing your feelings, which is what most of us are used to.

And that’s exactly where animal-assisted therapy can help. Imagine feeling uneasy while talking to a therapist. Now imagine a dog or cat curled up at your feet.

If you’re the kind of person who likes animals, the thought is instantly relaxing. (If you don’t like animals, that’s OK, but this type of therapy probably isn’t for you.)

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

According to the American Humane Society, animal-assisted therapy is defined as:
“a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.”

Depending on the animal, that can take different forms. Equine therapy, for example, is very active. You’re paired up with a trained therapist and a horse and its handler. Together, you’ll work together to address treatment goals and objectives. The concept is that patients learn about themselves by participating in activities with their horse—and then processing and discussing their feelings with the therapist present.

Other times, the animal has a more passive role. A dog might be present at a group therapy session just to make all parties feel more comfortable. Research suggests that having a dog present can make participants feel less stressed, more focused, happier and more motivated. It can also lead to decreased blood pressure and relief from anxiety.

Research shows that just petting an animal can reduce cortisol levels and jump-start production of the body’s own feel-good chemicals.

If there’s anytime you might feel like you need a hug, after all, it’s at therapy—and the dog sitting at your feet might be a better option than the therapist you just met.

Recovery at The Raleigh House

Rehab is not one size fits all. That’s why, at The Raleigh House, each person who walks through our doors is assigned his or her own therapist. Together, you’ll come up with a plan not just for your recovery, but for how you plan to deal with the joys and challenges of life once you leave rehab. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs at The Raleigh House.

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