While there are numerous research studies pertaining to the benefits of animal-assisted therapy, these trials are conducted across numerous healing contexts. Where studies focused on the substance abuse recovery setting are available, they are typically individuated by the species of animal involved in the sessions. According to one pilot project involving canine therapy in substance abuse rehab centers, the therapists found that they had increased access to information about the participants’ past history of drug abuse, emotional state, and ability to work with participants to develop drug-free coping strategies for life.
The canine-assisted therapy pilot project ran for 12 weeks at a rehab center located in Troy, New York. The project involved three dogs that have an International Therapy Dog certification. In an endearing twist, one of the dogs, a pit bull, was a rescue dog from a house used by people addicted to crack cocaine. Of the 56 recovering persons who participated (46 males, 10 females), 64 percent (28 females, 8 males) actively participated with the therapy dogs (participation was optional). The canine-assisted therapy sessions occurred once a week for 60 minutes. This is a typical scheduling, and many rehab centers that offer canine-assisted therapy are likely to offer a similar time/day format. The recovering individuals who participated in this program socialized with the canines, did some obedience training with them, and guided them through a miniature agility course.
These disclosures were considered to be an achievement, as it is well noted in the substance abuse treatment context that recovering persons sometimes have a difficult time working with staff as they see them as authority figures. The therapist involved in the canine-assisted therapy sessions had significant insights including how participants reacted to the perception of being rejected by the dogs. Therapist were able to intervene and instruct the participants who felt rejection on how to improve communications with the dog, such as not rushing the dog or expecting bonding to occur immediately. Some of the participants advised the therapists that they acted and reacted to the dogs as they would other humans. The insights gleaned could, in turn, pave the way to improved approaches to, and interactions with, humans.
The type of dog present also influenced the nature of disclosures made. For instance, when the pit bull was present, participants tended to discuss their history of violence and any exposure to animal cruelty. It is thought that the pit bull’s presence triggered these particular disclosures because pit bulls have a history of being involved in the drug use community as guard dogs and fighting dogs. As the pit bull was associated with being a victim, participants more readily discussed their history of victimhood in childhood and adulthood. This communication was significant, as there is a general consensus in the treatment community that anger, resentment, and an inability to express these emotions are key experiences underlying drug addiction.
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 Ernst, L. (Oct. 2, 2014). “Animal-Assisted Therapy: An Exploration of Its History, Healing Benefits, and How Skilled Nursing Facilities Can Set Up Programs.” Annals of Long-Term Care. Accessed Dec. 7, 2015.
 Herzog, H. Psychology Today.
 Ernst, L. Annals of Long-Term Care.
 Miller, T. et al. “The Use of Therapy Dogs With Adult Substance Abuse Clients.” Therapy Dogs International. Accessed Dec. 7, 2015.
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