Canine therapy is a form of animal-assisted therapy and is growing in popularity due to the ways in which this interaction benefits the client and aids in therapeutic alliance within each session. The presence of the animal can help a person to relax and become more open with their therapist. It may also incite them to speak freely of their experiences while examining their emotional and mental states more thoroughly. Canine therapy helps to increase wellbeing, confidence, introspection and motivation, while decreasing stress, anxiety and depression. Used together with other treatment modalities, canine therapy is a positive and beneficial component within addiction treatment programs
At a time when you may feel the most vulnerable, lonely and engulfed by a sense of isolation, canine therapy is a compassionate accompaniment within treatment programs.
Imagine for a moment a person’s life within an addiction. What they have around them is the many ways their addiction has torn their life apart —activities are without meaning and relationships strained or even non-existent. Now imagine what it would feel like, if at a time when everyone might be against you, including yourself, that an inquisitive and loyal creature comes up to you and gladly displays you affection and attention.
No two people are alike, nor are the situations that precede and contribute to their addiction. Because of this, every person’s treatment plan should be developed and adapted to their specific situation. Canine therapy is one of many modalities that may be integrated into an individual’s personalized treatment plan. This warm and engaging therapy may aid a person in building acceptance and self-confidence and support them to overcome their addiction.
By nature, dogs are attentive, accepting and comforting creatures, approaching each interaction in an unbiased and open way.
Each animal in the program is thoroughly trained in obedience training. During the sessions, the animals will be accompanied by the therapist, who will lead the session.
The animals themselves are the health intervention. They enhance positive feelings in people, raise oxytocin levels, encourage guests out of emotional numbness, and foster trusting and non-judgmental relationships. Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of connectedness, a sense of bonding, relaxation and overall psychological stability; it is also purported to be involved within the formation of trust and generosity.
Guests are able to reveal or discuss difficult thoughts, feelings, motivations, conflicts, or events by projecting them onto a real animal, a person within treatment may look to an animal and personify the creature, using the dog’s presence, demeanour or reaction to certain situations as a way to initiate certain conversations on more difficult subjects, that actually speak to the guest’s own personal struggles.
Sessions usually last for 45 minutes with the therapist engaging the dog in several ways, including talking, walking or play with the animal, or simply pet them.
Dogs are very intuitive and receptive creatures, providing fairly immediate reactions to a person’s mental and emotional states, due to the way they seem to “sense” a person’s state of mind or intentions. This aspect of animal therapy provides real time reactions to a person’s mood. For instance, if a person becomes anxious, the dog may become more agitated or attentive, granting an individual an opportunity to become aware of their anxiety, so that they can work towards decreasing it. The dog may aid in this process, as they may become more visibly relaxed as a person’s anxiety wanes.
One fact that is unique about these animals is that in many instances the dogs may be rescues, having experienced neglect, trauma or maltreatment within their lives. This can become a powerful tool and a phenomenal example of change and healing, as guests, upon hearing of these past circumstances, often begin to open up regarding their own painful pasts. This promotes healing and grants treatment providers a better understanding of our guest’s unique history and concerns, allowing them to adapt other therapeutic methods to better serve them.
Building Therapeutic Bonds: Within a therapy session, a dog may act as a neutral moderator, initially offering a distraction for the guest, allowing them to become more relaxed and comfortable. Engaging the dog within the session encourages the therapist and guest to work side by side, together on a task that promotes a sense of wellbeing, focus and is, in and of itself, non-confrontational. Together, these elements may help to facilitate conversations and openness more quickly than in a traditional therapeutic setting, allowing the guest to begin accepting, changing and healing more quickly.
Aid Sociability: Research notes that animal therapy may help a person change their perspective of their social appeal, putting it in a more positive light, a benefit that can carry forward as a person leaves treatment, entering into their life within recovery. This may aid them in becoming more confident and open within positive social settings, such as with family, friends or within various self-help support groups.
Benefiting Families: Canine therapy may also be a positive and healing component of family programs, as family members often report an enhanced sense of calm, wellbeing or happiness after sessions. The presence of the dog is often a good ice breaker and helps a family draw closer within their time together, creating an environment and attitudes that may be more conducive for constructive and positive communication with personal and familial growth.
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