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Deborah Dobson

Finding info on AAT in addiction treatment

Hello, I am new to this site and would welcome any and all input, suggestions and feedback. I am attempting to get information about using AAT in addiction treatment. I have 2 specific questions: 1) What does that “look” like? In other words, how can AAT be successfully incorporated into addiction treatment on a daily basis? 2) How can I emphasize the need for “formal” AAT in addiction treatment? That is, someone who not only has a Handler/Therapy Dog designation from an accredited, nationally recognized organization, but also has experience and knowledge about counseling and addiction? The latter question comes as a result of learning that many rehabs offer what they call AAT, but it is often volunteers who visit the treatment center on a regular basis, rather than an integrated therapy using an animal that has goals and specific desired outcomes. Thanks again – I look forward to hearing from you.

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    Nancy Parish-Plass

    Hi Deborah – I have a number of colleagues who are animal-assisted psychotherapists who have worked or are now working in treatment and rehab centers for people with drug and alcohol addictions. In the next few days, I will try to get a hold of them to get some answers for you.

    By the way, you wrote that you are looking for “formal AAT”. It is wonderful that you make a differentiation. Actually, by definition, AAT may only be practiced by someone with formal, professional therapy training. Anything else is (or should) be called AAA – animal-assisted activity, or AAI – animal-assisted intervention. There is so much massive confusion in the definitions of the various types of animal-assisted interventions. I hope that discussions here at HABRI Central enable a dialogue to organize these definitions so that everyone will be on the same wave length.

    Nancy Parish-Plass

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    Charles Watkinson

    Deborah. It may be too general to really address your question, but I really enjoyed Nancy Schenk’s Tails of Recovery (http://www.amazon.com/Tails-Recovery-Addicts-Pets-That/dp/0979986966). Charles

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    Nancy Parish-Plass

    Hi Deborah,

    In Israel, animal-assisted therapy with drug addicts and alcoholics has developed and advanced in the last few years in out-patient treatment centers and in therapeutic communities for addicts. Our therapeutic approach also includes animal-assisted activities based upon daily contact between the addict and the animals in the treatment centers’ therapy zoo. These centers established therapy zoos which include mainly rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, budgies, hamsters, rats, dogs etc. The addicts themselves take care of the animals on a daily basis: feeding and cleaning, building and fixing the cages as needed. These activities, as well as the daily observation of the animals behavior (many of them live with their families, give birth and raise their young) among eachother as well as towards humans, raise many emotional issues concerning for example parenthood and raising children, aggressiveness and sexuality between animals, neglect versus caring for the animals’ home, sibling relations, injury, sickness and death, departure and separation etc.

    All these issues are naturally and immediately connected to experiences that the patients experienced in their lives in the past or present and allow a starting point for a therapeutic dialogue within animal-assisted psychotherapy sessions (group or individual) in which they share their life experiences that arose from their contact with the animals. For example, this week we gave away baby rabbits that the addicts raised in the therapy zoo. As a result, we were able to work on the concept of separation and departure and what memories it awakens for each of us. The emotional processing of these experiences is also carried out using a variety of “tools” including drawing, therapy cards, guided imagery etc.

    As in any zoo, fast-breeding populations of animals (e.g. hamsters, rabbits, parakeets) need to be thinned out. The men were asked to take out some of the parakeets and put them into special cartons used for transporting animals. (The parakeets were to be brought to another therapy zoo.) In the therapy session later that day, one of the men spoke, crying, of the guilt he felt towards his children, who had to experience seeing him being torn away from the family. He then told of his feeling of being “thrown into the rehab center” (as the birds were thrown into the box).

    Another man referred to the darkness he felt in his life (relating to the darkness in the carton). A carton was brought to the center of the circle, and there was further discussion of the group members’ feelings and experiences with darkness. The men were asked to draw their experiences of darkness, which led one group member to open up about a time when a woman close him (as a child) put him into a container after he had annoyed her. He remembered screaming and crying, knowing that she was on the other side holding the opening closed tightly. He felt he would never get out. He heard life around him as usual, with no one sensing his distress. He said that he sees himself now as stuck in a black grave, while everything outside is white – others’ lives clean and without drugs.”


    In addition, and just as important, the caring for the animals in the therapy zoo teaches the addicts to take responsibility. This is an important lesson for them. In addition, “taking responsibility” is a part of the general rehabilitation message of taking responsibility for their life as well as fostering, for many of them, the ability to take responsibility for their children.

    I hope that I helped— there is a lot of interesting material written in Hebrew. Maybe one day we will translate some of the material to English Good luck!

    Efrat Maayan Clinical Psychologist and Animal-Assisted Therapist Retorno – a therapeutic drug rehab community in Israel

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    Karen Lasker

    Hi Deborah, I am the director of an animal assisted therapy program (offical AAT) and I will be meeting with an addiction center program director in the next week to discuss providing services to thier therapists. I would be very interested in hearing from you regarding any information you were able to obtain regarding your post. Thank you. Karen

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