During the COVID-19 pandemic, pets became especially popular. Animals helped people to keep a routine, to have motivation, and most importantly, to feel less lonely at a time when many were not able to have company. Emotional support animals have been popular for some time now to help those with emotional or mental health diagnoses function better. Guide dogs have long been used to help the visually impaired as well. Animal therapy is different than service animals and is more commonly being used in treatment for substance abuse. Can animal therapy help you?

The Importance of Connection with Animals

Humans have benefitted from the companionship of animals throughout history. Many people have animals as pets, and others have working animals. For example, for someone who is visually impaired, a guide dog opens up a whole new world, allowing access to more places and assisting them at home and in public. Most importantly, though, a guide dog becomes a companion. There is a connection that goes deeper than functionality; a guide dog can truly be man’s best friend.

The connection between humans and animals is deeper than just a mutually beneficial relationship. Pets become friends, confidants, and even a part of a family. Relationships of trust are built by mutual affection and companionship. Humans often rescue animals, but sometimes animals will rescue humans, too. Whether an animal is a pet, a working animal, a rescue animal, or an animal that you might visit, there is a non-verbal connection formed between you and the animal that is like no other.

Animals for Emotional Support

Having an emotional or mental health diagnosis can be debilitating. Those who may not normally be able to leave their home or function in public places can benefit from an emotional support animal. While it may not be feasible to have a nurse or caretaker available around the clock, an emotional support animal can be that constant companion.

Although animals are non-verbal, the connection between humans and animals can be strong enough to help someone have the strength to face their anxiety or other disability. According to BMC Psychiatry, animals offer a different level of emotional support that is particularly helpful for people with emotional or mental diagnoses, those who have suffered trauma or have PTSD, as well as those who are in treatment for substance abuse.

What is Animal Therapy?

Animal therapy differs from other working animals, such as guide dogs or emotional support animals. Animal therapy is therapy with a licensed clinician that takes place while interacting with animals. For example, in equine-assisted therapy, patients will cultivate a relationship with and care for a horse under the guidance of a therapist. The therapist then uses these experiences to provide therapy while interacting with the horse.

As a relationship of trust is built between the patient and the horse, the patient can also learn to ride the horse, with therapy taking place as part of the activity. Often, because of the non-verbal nature of building a relationship with an animal, the patient is more likely to trust and open up to the therapist as well. As part of the experience, the horses are also allowed to participate or not on any given day.

How Does Animal Therapy Help in Treatment?

Substance abuse can cause you to shut down emotionally. Often, the trauma or pain that is at the root of your substance abuse can also make it difficult to trust other human beings. However, within animal therapy, an opportunity is provided to allow a patient to trust the animal, leading to communication and trust with a therapist or other humans.

For some, treatment is so difficult that they want to quit; however, animal therapy might motivate them to continue. While some may be difficult to form strong relationships with other human beings in treatment, many find that the bond between humans and animals is stronger and happens sooner, which can help them to have something to look forward to each time they attend animal therapy.

Why Animal Therapy?

Addiction treatment offers many different treatment modalities, tools, and activities. Each person is unique in their therapeutic needs, so it is ideal to offer as many choices as possible. For those who love animals and those who may find it difficult to communicate easily or form connections with other human beings, animal therapy can be part of a successful treatment plan. Facilities that offer animal therapy create yet another opportunity to help more people.

Can animal therapy help you? Most people find animal therapy to be an organic, positive approach to therapy that has additional benefits of interacting with animals. Because of the unique connection that occurs with animals, animal therapy can help you learn to trust again and succeed in treatment. At Rancho Milagro Recovery, we have many rescue animals, including horses, dogs, pigs, cows, a turkey, turtles, and even emus. Like you, each animal is unique and has a name and a story. All of our animals offer love and support to our patients, and our horses are part of our equine-assisted therapy. Our beautiful Southern California ranch is the perfect location for you and our animals to heal together. Call us at (951) 526-4582 to find out how you can receive animal therapy as part of your treatment plan. Our animals would love to connect with you as you heal from addiction.

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