Animal assisted therapy began to grow in popularity through the use of horses in aiding people with disabilities and autism  (equine-assisted therapy), helping them to relax their mind and body.  Canine-assisted therapy has also long been used to help patients in hospitals and nursing homes to spend time with the certified therapy dog, open up and relax during the healing process, offering them companionship, even if just for a short while. Animal-assisted therapy has shown great success in these programs, making it clear that other therapeutic programs could adopt this treatment approach to help their patients heal in different ways.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal assisted therapy is an alternative treatment option used by many drug and alcohol treatment centers. This treatment approach uses the aid of animals to help patients improve their mental, physical, social and emotional functioning. There are many different types of animals used through this therapeutic process. Depending on the patients individual needs and what is offered by the treatment center, they may go through an equine-assisted therapy program, an canine-assisted therapy or a program using another type of animal.

Treatment using Animal Assisted Therapy can take place both individual or in group settings. This form of treatment is led by a qualified therapist or professional with specialized expertise in Animal Assisted Therapy.

Animal Assisted Therapy is much more that just spending time with animals. Patients are given specific therapeutic goals, strategies and outcomes measures. During therapeutic sessions the patient will care for the animal by walking, brushing, petting, feeding, and ensuring the animals needs are met appropriately.

The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal therapy is known as both a learning and healing process. Patients taking part in these programs have shown many physical and psychological benefits. The bond between animal and man is strong, regardless to if it is the first session or 10th, the bond is clear for each patient taking part in this treatment experience. Animals are non-threatening and non-judgmental, they are accepting and allow patients to open up. Benefits of animal assisted therapy include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased stress levels
  • Reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety
  • Increased beta-endorphin levels (a hormone produced by the brain and nervous system that reduces pain)
  • Improved social functioning
  • Increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-esteem.
  • Improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic program or group activity
  • Increased trust, empathy and teamwork
  • Greater self-control
  • Decreased Need for Medication

Animal assisted therapy has shown to be extremely beneficial for patients who are resistant to treatment or having difficulty expressing themselves and accessing their emotions. While not all drug and alcohol treatment centers offer Animal Assisted Therapy, many are beginning to adopt this alternation treatment approach.