Paws for Serenity - Animal Assisted Therapy
Since January, 2018, the Boston Rescue Mission (BRM) began offering Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and recovery groups to residential clients participating in substance abuse treatment. In partnership with Tufts University’s Institute for Human-Animal Interaction and their Paws for People volunteer program, the Mission began incorporating a certified therapy dog into existing recovery curriculum at the Mission.
So far, Animal-Assisted recovery has been very well-received by BRM clientele, and has served as a fresh and creative way for clients to actively participate in their treatment. In the presence of a non-judgmental, attentive, and unconditionally-loving dog, clients like Kenneth work through recovery issues like relapse prevention, triggers, stress management, establishing healthy routines, and other relevant recovery topics. “I’m working on enriching my life, my recovery, my housing. I’m learning how to live without drugs and be a productive member of society. I noticed that Polly, as a dog, she doesn’t judge. If you treat her alright then she treats you right. That showed me a side of recovery that I wasn’t paying attention to – how if I treat my recovery and my life like Polly treats me as a person, I could learn a lot of things if I can stay open-minded like her.”
A growing body of research suggests that AAT is beneficial to clients participating in residential substance abuse treatment. Studies demonstrate that AAT can therapeutically enhance clients’ programming when used in tandem with more traditional relapse prevention and trauma-informed modalities. Incorporating animals into treatment has been shown to reduce stress, increase oxytocin (pleasure/relaxation hormone), enhance rapport, improve communication, and strengthen the therapeutic alliance between clinician and client (amongst other benefits).
Our Senior Clinician, Nike Gregory MSW, recently earned her certification in Animal-Assisted Therapy, Activities and Learning from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work (Institute for Human-Animal Connection). It is Nike’s hope to expand the program, and incorporate additional therapy dogs, cats, and even guinea pigs into treatment at BRM in the years to come!