Published June 12, 2018
Completing primary addiction treatment is challenging, even in the best of circumstances. To smooth your path to recovery, addiction specialists may use a range of medication and therapy-based options. One option that’s gained popularity in recent years is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy (AAT). This type of treatment helps improve your chances of success by cultivating the strong emotional bonds that often form between people and animals. In rehab, pets can create a feeling of familiarity and comfort, soothe raw emotions, calm your mind and even help you open up to your therapists—all of which is a significant boon to your recovery progress.
Animal-assisted therapy is the use of animals to enhance healing processes. Used in a variety of therapeutic settings, AAP has a number of benefits, which include:
Dogs and cats are the most commonly employed therapy animals, but several rehabs offer programs such as equine therapy and even dolphin therapy! In fact, the benefits of AAT aren’t exclusive to any specific type of animal—it’s the companionship and unconditional love that counts.
According to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, “It has been suggested that AAT might help to develop the therapeutic relationship between patients and healthcare professionals, ((Calvo, P., Fortuny, J. R., Guzmán, S., Macías, C., Bowen, J., García, M. L., Orejas, O., Molins, F., Tvarijonaviciute, A., Cerón, J. J., Bulbena, A., & Fatjó, J. (2016). Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program As a Useful Adjunct to Conventional Psychosocial Rehabilitation for Patients with Schizophrenia: Results of a Small-scale Randomized Controlled Trial. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 631. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4858645/)) and could improve the therapeutic atmosphere; animals in AAT can act as social facilitators, social modulators, and amplifiers of emotional reactivity.” Another advantage of pet therapy is that it works well for people with a wide range of disorders and personal backgrounds—its core benefits are largely universal.
Interacting with pets has a calming effect—one that’s surely welcome during the early days of addiction treatment when dealing with stress, frustrations and unfamiliar surroundings can test the limits of your willpower. Animals improve your mental state and provide you with a much-needed sense of comfort and security, helping you get settled into your program and adding an extra layer of support.
Pets also release feel-good chemicals in your brain (which get depleted over the course of an addiction), such as the “love hormone” oxytocin, enhancing your ability to connect with others. This not only helps you open up more easily in therapy, but establishes positive emotional patterns you can take with you well into recovery.
It’s not just human-to-animal connections that are established during AAT; pets can strengthen human-to-human bonds, too. A study on companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people ((Wood L, Martin K, Christian H, Nathan A, Lauritsen C, Houghton S, et al. (2015) The Pet Factor – Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0122085. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0122085)) published in the journal PLoS One found that people who walked their dogs were far more likely to know their neighbors than non-pet owners. In fact, pet owners were 60 percent more likely to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before. As establishing new, non-using friends is a key component of successful recovery, pet companionship can go a long way in maintaining sobriety. And the increased physical activity that comes along with it isn’t bad, either—it can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your blood pressure in check and keep your stress levels under control.
Can you bring your own pet with you to substance treatment, or will the facility provide access for you? That depends. Some programs may rely exclusively on service animals that have gone through formal training and know how to interact with people from all walks of life. Others allow you to bring your own pet, or make it possible to choose either option. Here are some examples of luxury rehabs with pet-friendly policies:
Journey Malibu recognizes the benefits of pets in treatment and encourages their clients to bring their furry friends along with them, provided they’re friendly, unaggressive and comfortable around other people. They even have an animal handler on staff in the event that clients need a sitter.
The Hills Center allows clients to bring pets into inpatient treatment and incorporates pet therapy into their addiction treatment program to help brighten the early days of recovery and ease the transition to sobriety.
White River Manor welcomes clients’ pets, and also has their own, onsite pets that help clients settle in and feel right at home. Says the center’s art therapist Marlize van der Merw, “The clients really enjoy it. (Our resident dog) Lily is so little, so fluffy and so cute. It immediately almost makes them feel at home, when they come into the studio, because it’s something familiar. She’s friendly. They will cuddle her first. We will talk about her and, therefore, they will relax a little bit more.”
Whether you bring your own pet to treatment or form a relationship with a service animal as part of your program, pets can be incredibly expedient to your treatment progress, and make rehab a far more enjoyable experience. As AAT programs vary from center to center, the key is to find a program that best fits your unique set of needs. Visit our directory to learn more about pet-friendly luxury rehabs, and find a facility that meets your needs for top-quality care in an attractive treatment environment.