While early rehabilitation programs focused on cutting off the patients from many things from the outside world, modern treatment plans focus on bringing in as many positive influences as possible. The calming and mood-boosting effect of contact with animals is well documented across studies from nursing homes and hospitals, but now research is confirming that the similar physiological and psychological effects are experienced by patients at a rehab facility. Involve animals in your rehab efforts by looking for inpatient and outpatient programs including at least one of these therapy activities.

Find A Pet-Friendly Facility

Most rehab facilities require that patients attend alone and without family members or pets to accompany them, especially for inpatient programs. However, there are some programs that allow or even encourage patients to bring along their pets to stay in their room during treatment. Keep in mind that the types of pets allowed may be limited to just cats and dogs and most rehabs still require you to attend your therapy and biochemical support appointments without the pet, since an animal could cause distractions or damage equipment.

Choose An Equine Program

If you're not a pet owner but you've always dreamed about the feeling of freedom that comes from riding a horse across an open field, seek out a rehab with an equine therapy program. The sheer size and power of horses demand respect from the people interacting with them, and this exchange with an imposing physical presence can have a lasting impact on the emotions and mind of the patient who's struggling with self-esteem and confidence issues. Equine therapy is also useful for addiction treatment because

  • It involves a daily animal care routine that offers structure outside of the personal sphere, giving the patient something to focus on separate from their treatment 
  • It encourages responsibility in an enjoyable way
  • It offers the patient a chance to build a relationship with a calm and caring friend that doesn't know about their history with addiction and can't judge them for it.

Try Wolf Therapy

Drug and alcohol addiction can make patients feel completely out-of-control of their own lives, much like a wild animal with out of control instincts. Working with animals that often personify those urges in popular culture, like wolves and wolf-dog hybrids, can help patients on both the symbolic and literal level. Wolves are one of the most misunderstood animals, so it's only natural that rehab patients feel an affinity with them, when it comes to being judged for their behavior instead of receiving sympathy and understanding.

Rehabilitate Wild Animals 

Take the idea of working with wild animals one step further by finding a rehab facility that partners with a rehabilitation center for orphaned birds of prey or manatees injured by fishing nets. Since wildlife rehabilitation is a very demanding and complex task, getting involved in the process even a little can give the patient a lot of appreciation for the struggles of the animals around them. Nursing a bald eagle back to health is a powerful metaphor for the recovery process and the responsibility is perfect for patients who thrive on structure and challenges.

Visit With Trained Therapy Dogs

Finally, don't forget about the original form of animal therapy that first emerged in the 1980s. Trained therapy dogs give their undivided attention to patients during sessions of petting and play, making the patient feel respected and loved in a way that is hard for a human therapist to mimic. For an even bigger boost, look for programs that rehabilitate dogs with abusive pasts and unwanted behaviors, like biting, before making them therapy dogs. Working with a friendly pit bull that still bears the scars of life as a fighting dog offers a constant reminder that everyone can change and enjoy a healthier and happier future. 

For more information about rehabilitation, consider contacting treatment centers like Pacific Ridge.