We are excited to announce that Sunrise House now offers pet therapy. Every other weekend, Sunrise House staff will work with the PAWS for People foundation to bring in therapy dogs to interact with patients in Sunrise House’s scenic courtyard. Sessions will generally last between 45 minutes and an hour.
Pet therapy has become an increasingly recognized supplemental and holistic treatment method for psychological and physical health issues, such as addiction, anxiety, and pain. Research indicates that pet therapy has several benefits, both physical and mental. Chief among the mental health benefits is a notable reduction in loneliness and anxiety and an inverse rise in levels of comfort and relaxation. Pet therapy also fosters cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, reduces pain, and helps some people reduce or eliminate their need for medication.
Similar to equine therapy, patients can come to gain certain insights in interacting with the dogs during pet therapy. For example, one study showed that patients partaking in pet therapy with dogs gained new insights about boundaries and self-esteem when they felt rejected by the dogs. After intervention was provided to help them change their physical or vocal signals and communication with the dogs, many of them came to understand that these interactions tended to mirror their interactions with people. Dogs, like horses, are very sensitive to the signals that humans give off; learning to change these to create a positive and calm interaction can help patients to forge healthy bonds with their peers, for example in new sober networks like 12-step groups.
Aside from an improvement in behavior and ability to relate to others, pet therapy can put people in a good mood. Pet therapy has been shown to cause the release of hormones such as Phenylethylamine, which has the same feel-good effect as chocolate.
For those struggling with addiction, pet therapy can be a valuable part of holistic treatment. Some people struggling with addiction find it difficult to speak honestly about themselves and what compels them to abuse substance. While interacting with pets, it may be easier for some people to open up about their past experiences and their history of substance abuse. Studies also show that engaging in pet therapy can improve the relationship between patient and therapist, making for a better experience in treatment overall.
The therapy dogs are provided by Pet-Assisted Visitation Volunteer Services, or PAWS for People, for short. The handlers from PAWS for People are in recovery themselves—some even began their recovery at Sunrise House. During the pet therapy session, the handlers will discuss their stories and answer questions about the dogs. For more information about PAWS for People, please visit www.pawsforpeople.org.