In reading the title of this article, your first thought may be that someone has made a mistake. Surely, you are thinking, they must be referring to ‘animal-assisted therapy’, which is a fairly familiar topic to anyone who has done a Google search looking for information about alternative treatments for addiction and other chronic health problems.
But in fact, what we will be talking about here is something slightly different from the more established model. While the focus in animal- or pet-assisted therapy is on the addict or alcoholic, and on what animals can do for them, in animal-assisting therapy the primary emphasis is on what addicts can do for animals, or perhaps more correctly on what humans and animals can do for each other. As an adjunct to more traditional types of addiction treatment, animal-assisting therapy works by helping those who have been battling the demons of substance abuse find a way to step outside of themselves and discover deeper meaning and purpose by providing vital assistance to other living creatures who desperately need love and companionship. For animals and recovering addicts alike, animal-assisting therapy is a win-win situation.
A World of Light Where Once There Was Darkness
Just in the United States alone, there are thousands of local shelters, humane society chapters, rescue groups, rehabilitation ranches, and other types of non-profit organizations that provide care, comfort, and support for homeless, abused, and unwanted animals. The one thing that almost all of these groups have in common is their need for more volunteers to help them with their work, and the people who run these organizations are not the sort to turn someone away simply because that person has had some troubles of their own to deal with.
Even if you accept the fact that it can be a good idea for recovering addicts to focus on something outside of themselves, however, perhaps you are thinking that working with animals who have come from sad or difficult situations might be too much for them to bear. But the atmosphere in places where animals are being cared for and loved is filled with hope and light, and the suffering that residents of animal rescue shelters have undergone in the past only makes them more grateful to the people who are there for them now. Animal shelters are places of redemption and renewal, where the wonders of God’s grand creation are celebrated and appreciated, and the environment of love and unselfish commitment they provide has the power to heal the souls of struggling human beings at the same time it is healing the minds and bodies of the other living creatures with whom we share this glorious planet.
Those who sing the praises of animal-assisted therapy frequently point out the many benefits that spending quality time with non-human companions can have for people recovering from any kind of illness. Lower stress levels, a reduction in anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure and heart rate, higher self-esteem, and even a reduction in the severity of painful physical symptoms are just some of the positive outcomes associated with animal-assisted therapy, and there is no doubt that recovering addicts in particular can be helped immensely by spending time with other beings who will give them unconditional acceptance and love. But because animal-assisting therapy alters the focus of the relationship between human and non-human, this can bring extra benefits that working with animals in general may not always offer. There is something deeply satisfying about being able to help creatures who need us so badly, and those who work in shelters or at other rescue facilities caring for animals with sad histories end up feeling uplifted and empowered in ways that touch them profoundly and deeply.
Acts of kindness and selflessness by their very nature put us in contact with the best of ourselves, and this can make them incredibly valuable for recovering addicts who spent so many years selfishly putting their own needs above those of everyone else. Addicts and alcoholics repeatedly use and manipulate people in order to satisfy their desire for relief from the symptoms of addiction, and besides their need to detoxify their bodies they also need to cleanse their wounded spirits to remove the contamination left behind by their self-centered and abusive past behaviors.
Animal-assisting therapy can help even the most broken and jaded person rediscover his or her deepest inner sources of compassion, which is an essential step for any addict who hopes to finally ascend from the pit of despair and shame that dominated his or her existence for so long. Before those with a history of substance abuse can hope to find lasting sobriety, they must first rebuild their self-esteem to the point where they actually feel strong enough to accomplish difficult things and worthy enough to deserve the happiness and peace that was denied them during their years of battling against alcoholism or drug addiction.
Finding Strength and Purpose in Love
Animal-assisting therapy is all about fixing bodies, minds, and souls that have been damaged by abuse and neglect. Of course we are talking mainly about the animals here, but the human beings who choose to dedicate themselves to helping innocent creatures in need also benefit greatly from their determination to make a positive impact on a world filled with too much sadness and despair. Above all else, recovering addicts and alcoholics need something new and worthwhile to live for, and a commitment to caring for animals who have been cast aside can provide vital meaning and purpose where before there was only dependency and hopelessness.