How Does Animal Assisted Therapy Help with Addiction?

How Does Animal Assisted Therapy Help with Addiction?

When trained dogs or other animals are used in structured therapeutic practices aimed at helping individuals with specific health problems, that is called Animal Assisted Therapy. Evidence has shown that people who have diseases like cancer, heart problems or post traumatic stress disorder, can benefit from this form of therapy. It also has the potential to help people struggling with substance abuse or addiction.

How Does Animal Assisted Therapy Work?

Animal assisted therapy is a specific form of pet therapy. It is different to animal assisted activities, which are activities that rely on interactions with animals to lift the mood of people who are in hospitals or nursing homes. Rather, animal assisted therapy relies on trained animals, usually dogs or horses to help therapists achieve concrete goals in the treatment of those individuals who have significant health concerns. The animals receive extensive instruction in how to interact with humans, within different circumstances. Not all animals are suited to this, and trainers are usually extremely selective about which animals they pick to assist with therapy.

Before beginning a session of animal assisted therapy, typically the individual’s doctor or therapist will explain how the treatment works and ask permission to bring in the animal. The animal is usually accompanied by its trainer while the individual interacts with the animal. Animal assisted therapy can take place in a hospital or other institutions, but can also take place in other treatment settings.

The Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance is a bond that forms between therapists and their patients over the course of therapy. Researchers and health professionals are well aware that the establishment and continued maintenance of this type bond can increase the positive effects of therapy participation and help patients successfully achieve their treatment goals. Therapists work to establish and sustain an effective therapeutic alliance by doing such things as treating their patients in a warm and respectful manner, maintaining a trustworthy demeanor and staying away from or approaches that can alienate a patient.

Impact On Addiction Treatment

A study was conducted which assessed 231 individuals affected by substance abuse or addiction to gauge the impact of animal assisted therapy on the therapeutic alliance. 135 of the participants interacted with a trained therapy dog in 26 sessions. The remaining 96 participants didn’t. Analysis of the gathered data showed that the participants who did interact with a therapy dog had a more favorable perspective on their alliance with their therapists, as compared to the participants who didn’t.

Furthermore, the study noted that subgroups of participants included people who owned pets and people who were only in treatment due to a court order, and even they showed the same improved perspective on the therapeutic alliance after being involved in animal assisted therapy.

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