Animal Assisted Therapy
Several studies have proven the powerful effects that dogs and
companion animals can have in reducing the psychological stress
response, anxiety, fear and other nervous disorders (Baker & Dawson,
1998; Friedman et al). The Delta Society, the leading international
resource for the human-animal bond, is a non-profit organization that
validates the important role of animals for people’s health and
well-being by promoting research findings to the media and health and
human services organizations. Delta Society has developed many
standards-based training methods, and offers a course for
professionals in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). The psychosocial
treatment goals are almost identical to many of the treatment goals of
addiction recovery after abstention from the addictive substance has
been achieved.

Stabilized and Improve social skills by learning gentle ways to
communicate and handle the animal, such as feeding and grooming.
Brighten affect, mood, pleasure and affection while playing with the animal.
Reduce abusive behavior and learn appropriate touch.
Improve ability to express feelings by identifying how an animal might
feel in a certain situation and/or recalling a client’s history with
pets (sharing stories of grief or funny events).
Reduce anxiety and fear by forming a bond of love and comfort with the animal.
Learn how to better communicate with people by talking to the animal.
Develop a cooperative plan to accomplish something with the animal.

Cynthia Chandler, author of Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling,
points out that the positive benefits to be gained from therapy can be
more immediate when a therapy pet is involved, especially when working
with a resistant client. The desire to be with the therapy pet can
sometimes override the client’s initial defenses (Chandler, 2005). She
further points to the natural relationship that occurs between dogs
and humans which can result in quick bonding and trust between the
client and dog in a therapeutic setting. According to Chandler, this
bond between the pet and the client also helps to facilitate a bond
with the therapist, as the feelings of affection and trust for the pet
are eventually transferred to the pet’s therapist. Screening is
required for clients in recovery who have a history of violence,
animal abuse, animal phobias or allergies. However, most clients and
pets will benefit from this type of therapy (Chandler, 2005).

According to Dr. Joseph Volpicelli and the U.S. Substance Abuse and

Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “20 million Americans
suffer from alcohol abuse disorders, yet only about 2 million are in any
kind of treatment program”

It is important for any therapist or physician in the field of
alcoholism to keep an open mind to new and emerging treatment and
recovery methods, not necessarily as a substitute for current methods
or 12-step programs, but as an enhancement. In the last 20 years
several universities have established animal assisted therapy training
centers for the study, education and research of the animal/human bond
and how it can be applied to counseling and other related fields. It
is my hope that with continued research and education, animal assisted
therapy in varying forms will grow in popularity and respect as a
viable counseling tool for addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder
and other related fields of recovery.