Animal-assisted therapy can help kids in their recovery by teaching responsibility, empathy, connection, and giving back. During a stay at Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, kids can visit wolf-dogs at the Song of the Wolf Healing Center. While spending time with wolf-dogs, kids can foster a connection with these often misunderstood animals.
Breaking Myths and Incorporating Truths
According to the adolescent therapist Ozzie Cabral of Song of the Wolf, one of the most important things kids can take away from working with wolf-dogs is changing their self-perception. The animals at Song of the Wolf are part dog and part wolf. Wolves are misunderstood creatures that people have feared for years. When kids work with the wolf-dogs, even entering enclosures with them, they learn that the stigma surrounding wolves is built on myths and misinformation.
Kids in recovery from troubled pasts or dealing with challenging behaviors might also feel misunderstood and stigmatized. While at Song of the Wolf, kids are asked to consider what they understand about wolves before working directly with the animals. Most kids recite the common myths that these animals are dangerous and need to be avoided. The myths that stigmatize wolves are similar to the myths that these kids believe about themselves. When kids learn that the wolf-dogs are not as scary or dangerous as they once thought, they begin to incorporate these truths into their self-perception.
Shared Stigma of Wolf-dogs and Kids in Recovery
Kids from troubled backgrounds know that others stigmatize them or fear them. They know that other people see them as “bad” or “dangerous.” They might feel pushed away from others—parents of their peers might say, “stay away from those kids—they’re trouble!” Kids can internalize these feelings, warping their self-images.
When kids connect with animals that are also feared and seen as “dangerous,” they realize that similar stigmas do not need to influence their self-perceptions. They, too, are misunderstood; however, these misunderstandings do not define who they are. By spending time with other misunderstood creatures, kids can internalize these lessons with real-life experience. When kids learn to get to know each wolf-dog, they realize that both wolf-dogs and people in recovery can be better understood up-close and not from afar.
Other Benefits of Spending Time with Wolf-Dogs
Spending time with wolf-dogs at Song of the Wolf, kids can learn essential skills to benefit them during their recovery. These experiences may leave a lasting impression on kids, especially kids struggling with talk-therapy. Kids that respond to “hands-on” treatment modalities, like wilderness therapy, kickboxing, sports, or others, might also do well with animal-assisted therapy.
When kids enter enclosures to spend time with wolf-dogs, they learn skills to help with treatment, such as:
- Kids learn what their fears and natural impulses feel like while getting into an enclosure with animals that they have falsely learned to fear.
- When in these situations, many emotions kids might hide come to the surface, and kids need to face their vulnerability.
- Kids might have avoided feeling uncomfortable in many situations in their lives.
- When in a wolf enclosure, they will learn what these uncomfortable feelings are like—and that experiencing these feelings is not the “end of the world.”
- Controlling Impulses
- When in the enclosure, kids will need to control these impulses to remain calm.
- Wolf-dogs will “match” the energy that we bring to the enclosure—if we want the wolf-dogs to feel calm and safe, we need to show that we are calm.
- Kids might have “knee-jerk” reactions when exposed and vulnerable.
- Being in the wolf enclosure while building connections with wolf-dogs can teach kids to be less “reactive” when confronted with uncomfortable emotions.
- Spending time with wolf-dogs requires us to be patient with both the wolf-dogs and ourselves.
- Many of the animals at Song of the Wolf have been abused or neglected. They might take time to “warm-up” to kids.
- Kids can learn to be patient with themselves as they control their impulses and to be patient with the animals within the enclosure.
- As kids foster connections with these animals, they can realize that they need to be patient with themselves when exposed to new people or emotions during treatment.
- Learning to trust both themselves and the wolf-dogs is important in animal-assisted therapy.
- Kids in recovery might have issues learning to trust others due to past experiences of abuse, neglect, or other traumas.
- Re-learning to trust others and feel confident when asking for help benefits kids during their treatment.
- Kids can also learn to trust themselves and their abilities to handle challenging situations, fostering self-reliance.
Animal-assisted therapy can be incredibly transformational for kids who struggle opening up during traditional talk-therapy. With a more “hands-on” approach, experiential therapies can help kids build confidence and expose them to uncomfortable emotions they might otherwise keep hidden. At Song of the Wolf Healing Center, kids can learn to be patient with themselves as they learn to control their fears when working with misunderstood animals. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center understands the value and importance of experiential therapies. We offer many types of “hands-on” treatment modalities, like wilderness therapy and visits to the wolf-dog sanctuary. Visits to Song of the Wolf have helped kids develop empathy, compassion, patience, and mindfulness. These skills will help them throughout recovery and life. If your child struggles due to depression, anxiety, addiction, or other mental health issues, we are here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 to learn more about our residential programs.