Therapy dogs now helping with treatment in addictions and substance misuse

By Miranda Brumwell
May 4, 2016 - 6:00am

If you or someone you know has ever struggled with addiction, then you know treatment is a rough journey. But two women from the University of Saskatchewan hope to make their clients' troubling time easier by introducing therapy dogs.

Colleen Dell, a professor of sociology and Darlene Chalmers, assistant professor of social work, said therapy dogs have been used to help those suffering from mental health issues, but new research is going into the role therapy animals play in treating addictions and substance misuse.

“The dogs don’t judge. They don’t come with any background or pre-conceived ideas about that individual or their past or what their particular circumstance might be,” Chalmers said. “They are there just to be with that individual, so that can lend to creating a rapport with the dog handler, but also with a counsellor or treatment provider who might be alongside as well.”

Both Chalmers and Dell feel the role of animals in treating addiction is important because it helps staff build a rapport with a client. The relationship with the dog helps open up lines of communication by decreasing a client's stress level.

Dell said in her therapy, bringing the dog with her will help calm the client if they witness how the animal trusts her.

“There’s an example we just had at a treatment facility where I was asked to bring in one of the therapy dogs because the service provider knew that that person was maybe not in the best spot,” said Dell. “I was able to say, ‘Do you like dogs?’ and he was able to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I just love dogs!’”

Dell said there hasn’t been a lot of research done in the roles animals play in helping treat addictions, but with the help of a Canadian research team, she and Chalmers will host a couple of webinars. They will look at things like the positive health benefits of companion animals, animal assisted therapy and the research that currently exists.

The next webinar will be May 27, 2016, with another on June 27, 2016.


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On Twitter: @mlbrumwell

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