As if we needed an excuse to pet dogs!
Any pet owner can attest to the immediate comfort animals unconditionally give and how they can almost magically sense when we need their support. There are plenty of movies, media coverage, and personal anecdotes attesting to “The Healing Power of Animals,” as Huffington Post blogger James Van Praagh puts it. But are there clinically proven health benefits of companionship with animals? And can it specifically benefit the addiction recovery process?
Research on the Therapeutic Benefits of Animals
Whether you are looking for a pet or seeking animal-assisted therapy from a professional, you should know that research supports the healing power of animals. An article* from Psychology Today explains that “Animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as horses, dogs, cats, pigs, and birds, into the treatment plan.” While this practice is relatively new as a medical approach, the research results so far have been positive.
Another article from Psychology Today, “Woof Your Way to Wellbeing,” lays out some of the effective health benefits of working with animals in a therapeutic setting or having them as pets.
- An Honest Reflection Thanks to animals’ uncanny awareness of our emotional and physical health and needs, they can provide for us an unfiltered reflection that we might not always be aware of ourselves. Picking up on this mirroring can be very beneficial to your health not only as a sense of solidarity, but also as a reminder to be continually self-aware, especially of how you react to difficult situations.
- A Happy Place Animals are both attached and detached from our lives; they are connected to us in their reading, reflection and response to our emotional and physical states, but they are also detached in their (obvious) inability to be aware of worldly problems, societal stigmas and expectations, and other demands for our attention and time. Thus, they make the perfect resource to turn to when facing an obstacle or stumbling block to addiction recovery, mental health, or general well-being. Animals can instantly form “a happy place” that can distract, calm, or comfort you.
- Unconditional Love, Trust and Loyalty This third gift that animals so humbly bring to us might be the most powerful one. As they observe and reflect our emotions–even when they are messy and lonely–animals are never judgmental. This unconditional safety and support can be immeasurably beneficial to your self-esteem and mental clarity, and give you courage to push yourself past your comfort zone when struggling to form new habits. Not surprisingly, everyone can benefit from unconditional love, but it can be especially impactful when working through a trying, extensive process like substance abuse recovery or when supporting a loved one through that process.
The fact that animals are completely unaware of how extraordinary their genuine loyalty and unconditional love is to us humans simply reinforces the trust that we can have in them and vice versa.
Recovery from addiction is ongoing and requires all of the tools you can find to support your health. Companionship with animals has been shown to improve mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, or addiction, and reduce blood pressure and stress. If you like animals, consider finding ways to connect with them; you can adopt a pet from a local shelter, volunteer at a shelter or farm, or seek out professional animal-assisted therapy. You’ll not only be helping yourself; you’ll also be offering love and security to another creature, something you may not have felt able to do when you were battling addiction.
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