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Therapy Animals

Articles, Australia, International, Understanding Addiction

When offered, this new rehabilitation technique usually raise a few eyebrows. Few could ever guess, that animals have more than a few ways of helping a recovering addict.

To begin, there are very empathic animals on this beautiful planet. Few species, like dogs and horses, for example, are very open about their emotions. They do not lie, they do not deceive. If scared, they show fear. If angered, they will not think twice about expressing this emotion. These animals are completely honest and open about themselves. That is something that does not come easy to an addict.

Not only are they open for input and have no issues showing their inner emotions, they are also very empathic and literally soak up the energies around them and reflect them backwards. If a person near the horse is unsettled or anxious, it will be skittish and cautious. Most first time riders will tell you that being nervous about getting in the saddle is the worst thing you could do. The animal literally feels your reluctance and fear and becomes very hard to control and form a bond between the rider and the animal.

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Negative feedback, of course, is not what therapy animals are for. They show the addict how to communicate without words, using emotions and feelings alone. Gestures, intentions, thoughts even. All this allows the addict to get in tune with himself and come to terms with the emotions that flow through him. Very often people think they are calm and relaxed but their demeanour and energy is conflicting this. A therapy animal would feel this during interaction and reflect it backwards. This allows the addict to utilize this emotional honesty to detect issues he might have beneath the surface, allows the therapy animal to gauge it and guide it.

Horses are generally large and, more often than not, very intimidating animals. Just by the way an addict interacts with such an animal gives a lot of information to the therapist about the patient. If a person is energetic and often aggressive in their relationships to his peers and family, usually his approach to interacting with the horse will be similar.

On the other side of the spectrum, if the patient has a shy and submissive personality, the therapy horse will reign supreme and will rarely submit to direction or even interaction. To earn the horses respect one must be able to sternly state and clearly show what it is, that they want to say or do. Being assertive, the middle ground between being passive and aggressive, is what horses respond to the most.

Animals have been helping us cope with stress and emotional issues for as long as we domesticated our first pets more than 12,000 years ago. Modern animal research and studies show tangible evidence that having a pet like a dog or a cat can reduce the owners blood pressure. Simply petting an animal can lower your breathing rate, calm your hands and allows you to focus almost instantly. A happy dogs wagging tail is often enough to make most of us forget a bad day in the office or a fight with a friend. When we feel unwell or emotionally drained, your cat often seeks you out and curls up on your chest or stomach and purrs until your woes melt away and energy comes rushing back.

Stress being one of the most important things to manage in a life of a recovering addict, having a pet can be a huge help. This help goes both ways, as the addict also has to care for his pets, feed and groom them. They learn to care and love the animal, teaching compassion while fortifying the feeling we all get when someone is depending on us, that someone cares.

Most addicts have forgotten what its like to be happy and content, stress free and in company that unanimously accepts and understands them. Animals can bridge that gap, remind them what its like to feel unconditional love, both given and received.

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Anne -

Anne Lazarakis joined the DARA Rehab team from Sydney, Australia. She writes about addiction and mental health on a global, local and community level. She also relays personal accounts of substance abuse and recovery through the stories of our clients, their families and our own team members.

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