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Pets can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health during your recovery. They have been used in therapy and treatment centers for substance use disorders. Animals can be calming, promote positive social behaviors, improve heart health, and lower blood pressure. The benefits of animal companionship are numerous and have been recorded in studies that reveal stress reduction, increased social interactions, and overall improvement in a person’s quality of life.

History of Pet Therapy

The history of pet therapy goes back dozens of years. In the 1950s, Boris Levinson used dogs in children’s therapy sessions and noted the positive effects of his patients’ relationship with the dog. He advocated for the general use of animals in the field. Levinson is the psychologist who coined the term “pet therapy” in 1964 but using animals to calm the anxiety of patients is a centuries-old practice. Florence Nightingale used a form of pet therapy since 1869, and before her, the first recorded use of animals in therapeutic settings was in 1792.

Benefits of Pet Companionship

Having the companionship of a pet can make you feel less lonely during your recovery. It breaks your social isolation because pets are living organisms that provide low-maintenance relationships. Even when you are at your lowest lows, a pet will be there to comfort you. They won’t dump their problems on you or make a situation about them. 

Pets have endless empathy and emotional energy because they crave your love and attention. Relationships with pets often supply support, love, and loyalty. They can build your self-esteem and teach you self-love. Animals have been used in hospitals and nursing homes to reduce patients’ anxiety. Dogs, in particular, are sensitive to human emotions and great for improving a person’s mental health.

Learning Social Skills

Bonding with a pet can teach you social skills. When you have a pet, you must learn how to communicate with them effectively. You’ll have to learn how to set and respect boundaries. These types of communication skills are transferable to human interactions and can make you more comfortable in other social situations. Pets can also make it more comfortable for you to be vulnerable as they provide nonjudgemental friendship.

Having a pet gives you more opportunities to socialize with others. You might find yourself belonging to a community of people who attend the same dog park or share the same love for reptiles as you do. Owning a pet makes you belong to the community of pet owners. 

You can use your pet as a conversation starter at large social gatherings or with a neighbor you politely smile to on your way to the vet. Using your pet as a topic of conversation takes the pressure off you because you can have social interaction without dissecting your personal life and worrying about being judged for it.

Responsibility

Owning a pet comes with various amounts of responsibility. Your pet is dependent on you. You will be responsible for feeding, housing, providing comfort, and making medical decisions for your pet. A pet holds you accountable for your own needs because you must be physically and mentally well to be able to take care of them.

Most pets will remind you to get out of bed to feed them. So even when you feel too depressed to move, the responsibility of caring for your pet will motivate you to move through your day. In doing so, you may start feeling more in control of your depressive symptoms. Having this type of responsibility can also make you feel needed and give your life a sense of purpose.

Fear and Security

Animals can make you feel a sense of security. When you are alone, you tend to be more vulnerable. It is often easier to hold a sense of security when you are surrounded by other people. Pets can provide this type of security simply by breaking your social isolation. If a crisis occurs, you won’t be all alone in dealing with it. Your pet will be by your side, even if only to provide comfort. This sense of security can help mitigate your anxiety symptoms.

Types of Pet Therapy

Dogs are the most common types of therapy pets. However, horses, fish, birds, reptiles, and guinea pigs have been used in pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy. All animals used for this therapy must pass a behavioral evaluation test to ensure that they won’t be spoofed by strangers and are safe to be around. Animal-assisted therapy has been studied to have positive effects on war vets and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Equine Therapy

Horses can also be used in pet therapy. They can help people build confidence, understand responsibility, and soothe anxiety. Equine therapy involves the use of horses to address mental health symptoms. A session of equine therapy usually involves grooming, feeding, and leading a horse in the presence of a mental health professional. The goal of this type of therapy is to develop emotional regulation and self-confidence.

Pets can provide emotional support, teach social skills, and provide you with a sense of security and unconditional friendship. West Coast Recovery Centers believes that traditional treatment options should be met with modalities that will improve upon different aspects of your mental health. We offer equine therapy for those looking for companionship and the opportunity to build social skills. Our mental health professionals will work with you to create a treatment plan that caters to your mental health needs and inspire you to meet your recovery goals. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (760) 492-6509 to learn how West Coast Recovery Centers can inspire long-term recovery.