Awakenings

a Pet Friendly Healing Center Where Clients Bring their Pets to Treatment

Animal companions have long been known to soothe their human guardians. Everything from anxiety and depression, drug cravings to high blood pressure can be ameliorated to some degree by a pet’s unconditional loving companionship. Given the essential component of stress management for any effective addiction or trauma recovery program, a recent study from the University Of Cambridge Department Of Veterinary Medicine is enlightening. Researchers found that pet owners reported a highly significant reduction in minor health problems during the first month following pet acquisition, and this effect was sustained in dog owners for up to IO months. In addition, dog owners got considerably more physical exercise (while walking their dogs) than did those without pets. The positive benefits were observed across both physical and emotional health problems.

The results of this research provide evidence that pet companionship could have positive effects on human health and behavior, and that in some cases these effects are relatively long-term. Both the short- and long-term effects demonstrated in this study suggest the important role pet companionship plays in supporting a recovering person’s critical stress management well-being.

Eliminating A Barrier to Healing

So it should come as no surprise that this relationship would find itself incorporated into a mental health, trauma and addiction treatment setting, particularly in an environment that serves clients with multiple diagnoses. Often, as many admissions department staff members know, leaving a pet behind may pose a barrier to a potential clients entering treatment, including daytime intensive treatment. Bringing a pet to treatment lessens the anxiety of leaving home each day and entering a situation that for many amounts to unknown territory. Allowing a pet to come to treatment in essence can be the determining factor that may save a person’s life.

In an effort to support our clients’ desire to remain close with their pets while in treatment, Awakenings Intensive Outpatient Healing Center in Agoura Hills, California allows just that. Dogs are welcomed each day and there is no size restriction on dogs. The culture that is subsequently created is one of responsibility and accountability, and one that also facilitates the warmth that animals bring to the environment.

Therapeutic Rationale

The therapeutic rationale related to allowing pets has two elements. First, in addition to the health benefits already discussed, the responsibility of daily pet care constitutes a beginning step for many clients toward regaining their sense of maturity in the world. For many, the basics of adulthood has been stripped during a period of mental health crisis and of experiencing the consequences of behavior related to addictive, trauma and/or eating disorders. Therefore, it can serve as a wonderful beginning to experience the rewards of re-establishing a caring relationship with one’s pet. For some, this is a very important hallmark of the return to healthy living.

The second area of therapeutic importance for clients and their animal companions is related to shame reduction. Many clients hold tremendous shame regarding the manner in which they neglected, and in some cases abused, their pets while they were either too depressed, traumatized, anxious or under the influence to properly attend to them. The simple act of providing love and attention to a pet in early recovery can unleash tremendous grief and shame related to past behaviors. The resulting therapeutic material allows for processing and resolution of these issues.