Animal Therapies in Recovery

If you follow any type of social media these days, or even watch the news, you are sure to see at least one story about a cute animal doing an amazing trick, a family pet performing a valorous task, or an endangered animal species coming back from the brink. Humans’ fascination with animals, be they fuzzy, scaly, or slimy, seems to know no bounds. But this fascination has been parlayed by researchers and therapists into effective treatments for people with a wide array of issues, including people with substance use disorder.

Go to rehab, get a puppy

Just as state and federal correction systems have realized the benefits of incorporating animal care into the lives of their inhabitants, so too have rehabilitation centers and treatment programs begun to adopt these methods. One benefit of spending time with companion animals is the lack of judgement: no matter how much emotional or physical pain a person may be dealing with, an animal will interact with them regardless, particularly if the person has treats or physical affection to provide. Another way companion animals can help in a treatment setting is encouraging a person to wake, eat, sleep, and exercise on a regular schedule. There is nothing like an adorable puppy whining to go out to get a person out of bed in the morning! Being responsible for the needs of another being, particularly one that is more helpless, can help people in the early stages of recovery transition back into activities of daily living. While there are some treatment facilities that do all patients home with a companion animal, more commonly animals of all sizes and species are used to facilitate both physical and emotional therapeutic modalities.

Outpatient animal therapies

Perhaps the most well-known types of animal-assisted treatment is hippotherapy, also known as equine therapy. Used for a variety of diagnoses, including for people with substance use disorders, people with mental illness, or people with long-term health issues, there are many ways that working with or riding horses can be beneficial. Riding horses, even at a slow pace, offers passive motion in a way that is very different from walking. Learning to interact and communicate effectively with a prey animal who weighs over 1000 pounds can allow a person to develop increased self-awareness by ‘mirroring’ any emotions the person is feeling, even on a very subtle level. Animal therapies often provide safe, nurturing opportunities to develop trust in others, and foster healthy relationship building skills over time, as well as such character traits as commitment, responsibility, intrinsic motivation, positivity, and love. Treatment programs focused on farm animals, pets, reptiles, birds, and even animals in need of physical rehabilitation themselves are available across the US.  After in- or out-patient treatment, many people with ongoing physical or emotional issues find support from trained service animals.

New types of treatment for people with substance use disorders are being developed all the time, often with the input or with the impetus of people in recovery who have decided to continue their educations and then work in the field.  The Ammon Foundation provides financial support for people who want to complete, return to, or even begin their educational journey. Check out our blog to learn more about previous Ammon Foundation Scholarship Recipients and find out when applications open!