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Companion Animals as Therapy for Mental Health and Drug Addiction

Studies show that over half of Americans own a pet of some kind. Pets keep people to a routine and give people something positive to focus on. For those who struggle with a mental health issue, pets can be so much more. A companion animal is a pet that is used for therapy purposes. Doctors, scientists and medical professionals may assign companion animals to people with mental health and medical conditions like autism, depression, and severe anxiety.

(Photo via Pixabay)

If you are considering getting a companion animal for yourself or gifting one to someone you care about, it would be worthwhile. Even though companion animals are not in the same category as service pets, they can be just as important. Petting or spending time with a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure and stress, and companion animals can even help people deal with the loneliness associated with death. They are loving, supportive company for those with mental health issues who  may otherwise struggle to relate to the people in their lives. Companion animals are even used to help substance abusers recover from addiction.

Companion Animals as Medical Therapy is Not a New Idea

Companion animals have been used for many years. Early on, pets like dogs were widely used to calm and treat people with extreme psychiatric problems. Consider:

  • In World War II companion animals were used to help soldiers suffering from, “shell shock,” or anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia and mental problems from exposure to the horrors of war. (Today it is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
  • Boris Levinson perfected animal assisted therapy, or companion animals, for the modern age in the 1960s. He used companion animals to help children with mental and behavioral problems.

Any animal can be a companion animal. A great place to get one is an animal shelter or rescue. You can train one yourself, but it may be a better to get tips from a medical professional on maximizing their therapeutic benefits.

Companion Animals Have a Healing Effect on People

Many years of studies have shown that companion animals can have a healing effect on people. They offer their human counterparts the motivation to exercise, help inspire them to take their medication, and offer an easy outlet for socialization. Companion animals are sometimes even given to the elderly and taken for visits to nursing homes, as they can help those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia and forgetfulness. People of all ages with many kinds of mental conditions like depression, psychosis, and paranoia can be helped by a companion animal.

How Companion Animals Can Aid Addiction Recovery Programs

Recovering addicts can be very hard to treat medically. Drug use can rewire the brain so that an addict can only think of getting high. Someone consumed by their addiction may shut everyone out of their lives and even neglect their health needs. Often, all parts of a normal, healthy routine are lost in exchange for substance abuse.

Medical professionals use companion animal therapy to re-introduce healthy life routines to addicts and encourage them to avert their focus.

  • Animals require daily grooming, care and maintenance. They must be walked, cleaned and fed daily. A companion animal encourages an addict to focus on caring for another being in the here-and-now rather than the many challenges that come with addiction recovery.
  • Companion animal create a positive co-dependent bond. Your companion animal trusts you implicitly to care for his every need. In return, you regain the self-confidence that you can not only care for yourself, but for another.
  • Instill a sense of responsibility and accountability when it comes to the care and maintenance of their pet.
  • Caring for a companion animal can inspire the need for regular exercise, since pets need to be exercised.
  • Pets can disrupt isolating and negative behavior, relieve stress and inspire the need to reconnect with life.
  • Companion animals instill a sense of trust. If a recovering addict learns to trust their animal, it can translate into their other relationships, helping someone in recovery rebuild with their loved ones.

Owning a companion animal will not solve every problem, but for many with mental health and addiction issues it can be a major factor in recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling, adopting a companion animal might be the best decision you ever make.

Article Submitted By Aurora James.

Like most dog owners, I enjoy spending as much time with my pup as possible, and sometimes that means bringing him with me to dog-friendly restaurants and shops.
He’s very well-trained so I trust him to behave properly around other dogs and humans. And before bringing him to a business, I always make sure I know their rules regarding dogs.
Unfortunately, not all dog owners keep close tabs on their pup’s behavior when out in public. At DogEtiquette, we thought it might be good to come up with some hard and fast rules for dog owners to follow when bringing their pets to coffee shops, specifically, and we’ve included them in a new infographics. – Aurora    Visit her on her website DogEtiquette.info.

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