Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Animal-Assisted Therapies Prove Beneficial to Teen Rehab Patients

Most adults who begin the therapeutic process do so by sitting across from a therapist and launching into a candid conversation about their opinion on what is causing them difficulties in their lives. For teens, this isn’t always an effective method. Why?

  • Some teens are angry about being in therapy or otherwise feel uninterested in the process of treatment and don’t believe it is effective or necessary.
  • Some teens find it difficult to open up to a stranger.
  • Others have a hard time articulating their feelings or even pinpointing anything but the most surface emotions.

How do you reach a child that finds the standard talk therapy to be a difficult task to face? A wide range of alternative and holistic treatments can be helpful and one of the most effective, according to a recent study, is animal-assisted therapy.

The Study

Lindsay Ellsworth is a doctoral research student from Washington State University. She conducted a series of studies pairing teenage boys in a residential placement home setting and kenneled dogs waiting to be adopted at the Humane Society. Every week, the boys were split up at random and half were allowed a leisure activity of their choice (e.g., video games, television, basketball) while the other half engaged in brushing, playing with, and making friends with the Humane Society dogs. Each week, the boys who were randomly chosen to play with the dogs reported a significant increase in emotional stability and pleasure. Ms. Ellsworth tested the boys before and after the assigned activities to determine the variance in outcome.

Said Ellsworth, “We found one of the most robust effects of interacting with the dogs was increased joviality. Some of the words the boys used to describe their moods after working with the dogs were ‘excited,’ ‘energetic,’ ‘and happy.’”

Providing Positive New Experiences

Animal-assisted therapy is just one therapy that, in the context of a positive and therapeutically supportive living environment and an intensive treatment program, can be beneficial for teens. Wilderness adventures, outdoors and nature therapies, sports therapies, and more have also been proven effective in the treatment of teen boys as they work to overcome drug abuse issues, come back academically, and develop positive social skills with peers, therapists, and family members.

If your son is struggling and needs assistance, reach out to us at Muir Wood today. Contact our call center, download an admissions packet, and learn more about your options in teen-specific treatment now.