Pets and animals can help those who are struggling with addiction in their recovery. Pet and animal-assisted therapy can be beneficial for those with self-esteem, trauma, or attachment issues. Family pets can teach kids to be responsible and caring. They can also help kids get out for exercise and build a routine around pet care. Animal-assisted therapy can occur outside of the home in specialized facilities, like animal sanctuaries or equine therapy centers. Kids in recovery can build rapport with neglected or abused animals. These experiences can help kids truly develop a connection with another being. When used in conjunction with treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), these experiences can further enhance the healing process in recovery from addiction and other behavioral concerns.
Bonding and Attachment
Attachment and bonding with others is a visceral experience. We “feel” connections with our friends, partners, family members, and pets. When a child experiences trauma early in life, they might struggle to trust others and might not “feel” these connections with others. They may not feel safe around others or open up for fear of being vulnerable. Pet and animal-assisted therapies can help a troubled child experience these connections. Rather than teaching a child how they should feel when bonding with others, pets and animals can provide a healing experience. The experience gives them a backdrop and a metaphor for other therapies to really take hold and become more effective.
Experience to Teach Empathy and Connection
When a child is going through therapies like CBT or DBT to learn how to form connections with others, these teachings might be meaningless without any experiential “data” for the child to have context. How can we learn empathy or connection if we rarely experience these feelings? Therapy seeks to teach the skills needed to build and foster stronger connections; however, if a child has shut themselves off from these feelings, they might struggle to grasp these skills. Animal-assisted therapy provides context for the therapy work that they are working on. When kids do not feel safe around other people, they might not know what safety and security in the presence of other living things feel like. Pets and animals can be safer for children to learn these feelings to then transfer to their relationships with other people.
Animal Sanctuaries for Recovery
Animal sanctuaries can help provide the experience the kids need in order to learn empathy and build connections. Sanctuaries—like Song of the Wolf Healing Center in Bailey, Colorado—can provide opportunities for kids to build confidence and self-esteem. Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey discusses animal-assisted therapy with Song of the Wolf founders Osvaldo Cabra and Mary Ann McCain during the podcast “The Wolf is my Therapist.” Song of the Wolf Healing Center offers kids a unique experience to work directly with wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. The canines residing at this sanctuary were either abused, neglected, or surrendered by their owners.
Tapping Into “Inner Strength”
Working with a wolf can be intimidating! We know that wolves can be fierce predators. They are highly intelligent creatures, yet the animals in the sanctuary need people to help them thrive. When kids work with the animals under proper supervision, they might need to overcome self-doubt and fear to enter the enclosure with the animal. The experience requires them to tap into their inner strength, which can then help them build self-esteem. By providing an experience for kids to dig deep and find that strength, they can start to build on the experience. Once they have a foundation of knowledge that they overcame something they were fearful about, kids carry this knowledge into other areas of their lives.
The Special Connection With Sanctuary Animals
Often, animals brought into sanctuaries might have been neglected or abused. In the case of wolves and wolf-dogs, the animals might have a “bad reputation” as dangerous. Troubled kids might feel a special connection to these animals if they similarly feel neglected, hurt, or feared. Kids with problematic behaviors might be looked at by other parents as the “bad kids” that are not invited to their peers’ homes. Troubled youth and adolescents might feel that they share a certain kinship with these animals. By building this connection based on similar experiences, troubled kids can begin to heal and foster stronger bonds with others. The experience of pet and animal-assisted therapies can help cement the teachings of other therapies to help kids succeed in their treatment.
Pet and animal-assisted therapy can provide your child with the experience of building a connection with another living creature. When a child experiences trauma or has attachment issues, they might not know what a connection feels like. They might be in talk-therapies, learning new skills for building relationships. However, without really knowing what to feel when they experience a genuine connection, kids might not grasp the concepts presented in therapy. Pet and animal-assisted therapies can greatly enhance your child’s treatment by bringing an experiential component to their program. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center believes in the power of animals in recovery. We often have animals like dogs, horses, and cows, interact with kids in recovery. If your child is struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety, trauma, cutting, promiscuity, or other severe issues, call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.