Whether one struggles with an addiction or disorder, lifelong recovery is the goal of treatment. This is achieved through a wide array of therapeutic approaches that often include individual and group therapy, family involvement, experiential activities using art or music, body image therapy, even spiritual integration. And ever increasingly, help is being provided by therapists of a four-legged variety, namely horses and dogs.
Canine and equine therapy are very different from one another, yet share one important factor: when an individual is concentrating on interaction with an animal, they don't simultaneously focus on themselves, their disease, or disorder.
Although gentle in spirit, horses are enormous, often daunting, creatures. In a therapeutic role, they are available, compliant and ready to participate with no agenda in mind. Unlike people, they are without judgment. Horses are inherently inquisitive and guileless; they do not know or care about disorders or addictions. They allow people to practice skills that are important to recovery, such as decision-making, assertiveness and communication. Working with a horse can serve as an enormous confidence booster. Many feel that if they can learn to work effectively with an animal of this size, they can do anything.
At the heart of most addictions and disorders is emotional pain and the inability to adequately cope with feelings. Often the genesis of such pain is another person or persons. When pain is human-caused, dogs can become the ideal therapist. Dogs love unconditionally. Therapy dogs can help improve an individual’s self-esteem, motivation for recovery, even inspire a reason to live. Whether engaging in an orchestrated activity or simply holding a dog and petting a proffered belly, such interaction can remind a person of any age that happiness, laughter, and joy are still accessible in this world.
All therapy has great value and what is unearthed in one-on-one therapy is different than what is learned in a group. However, what is gained when working with an animal holds a value all its own simply because they are not people. They know nothing of the past or future, they only know of the present time, and it is these moments that a horse or dog willingly give to a hurting person in need.
- Dr. Kim Dennis
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