The Power of Unconditional Love
The earliest recorded use of domesticated animals in a clinical settings dates back at least to the late 18th century and is believed to have been in practice since the earliest days of human civilization.
Today, animal-assisted therapies have become increasingly prevalent in places of healing and recovery – such as hospitals, nursing homes and addiction care facilities.
Prolonged addiction seriously damages an individual’s self-esteem, creates self-loathing, shame, guilt and other destructive feelings which become impediments in recovery. Canine therapy in particular helps counteract these negative emotions. The presence of dogs during therapy disarms patients and naturally lowers patients' apprehension about the counseling process, allowing them to achieve greater progress in treatment. Dogs give unconditional love, acceptance and appreciation – making a person feel as though they are perfect just as they are.
What Does the Research Say?
While the close bond between humans and animals is undeniable and has been inherently understood for thousands of years, scientific research into the direct impact in clinical settings is ongoing. What has been found so far is a clear benefit from the presence of canines in any sort of environment for healing. Specifically, several studies have shown canine therapy to be highly effective in improving social skills, raising self-esteem and confidence, reducing abusive behavior, improving a person’s mood and in promoting free self-expression during counseling.
The Use of Dogs in Therapy is Well Documented:
- The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, kept his dog Jofi present during his pioneering sessions. He found that the dog was very helpful in encouraging patients to relax and confide.
- As early as 1919, the United States military endorsed the use of dogs a supplemental therapy at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC.
- A study in 2012 used patients in an outpatient pain management clinic, putting one group in a waiting room and another group in a room containing therapy dogs. Results showed significant improvements in pain, mood and other distressful measures when patients were placed in the room with therapy dogs.
Our Canine-Assisted Therapy Program
As part of our animal-assisted therapy program, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches uses therapy dogs to give our patients affection, warmth and a reason to laugh and forget their problems. We have seen that the natural relationship built between canines and humans leads to quick bonding and trust between our patients and dogs. While it is not a substitute for addiction treatment, it can make the effects of counseling and other therapies more immediately felt and help patients progress through treatment more quickly.