Animal-Assisted Therapy for Addiction

The connection humans share with animals is powerful, providing a variety of benefits that are backed by research. Pet-assisted therapy is an approach to healing that draws on the innate bond between animals and humans and can be particularly healing for those with addiction and mental health issues.

Meet Cooper, Our Animal-Assisted Therapy Dog

CooperCooper was born on January 27, 2014. As a young pup, he went through training to become a certified therapy dog through Alliance of Therapy Dogs and began working at Clarity Way addiction treatment center in June 2014. Cooper joins us on weekdays and some weekends. He also attends family day and alumni day, where former clients are overjoyed to reunite with him. When Cooper isn’t at Clarity Way drug rehab and dual diagnosis treatment center, he lives with our therapist, Katharine Sprague, LCSW, CCTP, who brings him to work with her. Together they are certified as an animal-assisted therapy team.

A Day in the Life of Cooper

Cooper usually clocks in around 9 am. He is a calming, grounding presence for our clients and joins in group sessions or individual therapy sessions. It’s not uncommon for clients to lay with him or rest their heads on him during groups if they are going through a difficult time. Cooper is especially helpful to clients suffering from intense anxiety who are able to calm themselves down by focusing on him, petting him and allowing him to comfort them.

During the day, Katharine may assign different clients to take Cooper for walks, watch him for a period of time, or get him to group sessions on time. Responsibility for Cooper instills a sense of trust and accountability in clients. Many haven’t felt trusted for quite some time, and these small acts can boost their self-esteem and self-worth.

Cooper’s duties also include offering daily lessons in mindfulness and being in the present moment. Dogs aren’t worrying about what will happen later that day or what happened yesterday. They are present, focusing on what is happening here and now. Clients find that Cooper complements the mindfulness work they engage in as part of our addiction programming. Some additional lessons Cooper loves to help teach our clients are those in empathy, teamwork, trust, self-expression, cooperation, communication and the importance of giving back.

When Cooper isn’t helping with individual or group therapy he likes playing ball with clients and getting pets and belly rubs. He is a surrogate pet for many clients who are away from their pets back home. He also likes to greet clients who are first entering Clarity Way, serving as a fluffy, friendly icebreaker. Cooper occasionally visits our state-of-the-art drug and alcohol detox center to provide some welcomed doses of unconditional love and motivation to those who may be apprehensive or anxious in the early phases of addiction treatment.

What Is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, involves therapist-guided or spontaneous interactions between an individual and a specially trained therapy animal. These exchanges can help people develop and strengthen social, emotional and cognitive skills. A client’s relationship with the animal, which has no judgment or shame to project onto the client and vice versa, helps instill confidence, encouragement and unconditional love. Because these attributes are often missing in a client’s life, this experience can become a strong catalyst for positive change.

Some of the benefits of pet therapy include:

  • Improved mood through release of mood-enhancing endorphins in the brain
  • Increased compassion and empathy through release of oxytocin (the brain’s “love chemical”)
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Enhanced mental and physical health
  • Decreased stress by lowering the brain’s cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”)
  • Increased trust and trustworthiness
  • Stronger client-therapist relationships
  • Better interpersonal and social skills
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased optimism

If You’re Struggling, We Can Help

Call us today to speak confidentially with a recovery specialist. We’ll answer all of your questions and provide a free, confidential consultation. 888-879-1289

*Note: We make sure any clients with allergies or who prefer not to interact with animals will not come into contact with our therapy dog.

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Clarity Way

Clarity Way
544 Iron Ridge Rd
Hanover, PA 17331


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