Man’s Best Friend Helping Veterans in Outpatient Group Counseling

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Derby, Assistance Dog in Training

Dogs and humans join forces at the Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic Counseling Center (PHCC) in Arlington, VA to take a bite out of the threat of addiction. A new and exciting collaboration with Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) started this month, opens the door to introducing Animal Assisted Therapy, a new therapeutic approach designed to help veteran clients with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as witnessing the death of a battle buddy. It is one of the more common disorders that challenge some of our military personnel returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. PTSD can cause great distress and interfere with a person’s work or home life. Unfortunately, PTSD can go hand-in-hand with substance abuse. Use of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) can make this anxiety disorder more severe. That’s why the PHCC believes it is so important to support our clients by teaching them skills to overcome addiction and manage the symptoms of other mental health disorders with the help of our four legged friends.

Launched in 2010, VMF provides service dogs, at no cost, to veterans with physical and mental health challenges, including those suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. The Non-profit Delta Society certifies training for dogs used by VMF. PHCC Outpatient Counseling Supervisor Bill Prasad is taking the Delta training to become a certified handler. Delta Society, a research foundation, demonstrates that when some humans are in contact with dogs that person’s blood pressure can drop along with stress and anxiety levels.  The presence of a dog can help people feel less lonely and depressed, and more connected to others.

Dogs are trained to detect signs of stress and anxiety. While in group counseling sessions at the counseling center dogs respond to clients by approaching them and allowing the client to hold or pet them. Sometimes, just having the dog in the room can provide a relaxing influence. As pets draw attention to themselves, clients are less consumed by their own anxiety. Recently, a client who lost his dog found great comfort by having another dog in the group.

Dogs can alleviate hyper-vigilance common in veterans with PTSD, and can help them feel safe. They are protective, loyal companions, provide unconditional love and affection and may help veterans and other clients relearn trust and recapture the ability to build relationships, which are often fractured by PTSD and substance abuse.

PHCC currently offers Outpatient Counseling and Aftercare for adult men and women and adolescent boys and girls, as well as Partial Hospitalization for adults. Through Individual and Group counseling, our counselors help clients who are suffering from both substance abuse and mental health disorders to learn to manage the symptoms of their mental health disorders while in treatment for substance addiction. Counseling approaches utilized by Phoenix House include motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy. Research has shown that these methods are effective for clients with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Animal Assisted Therapy will make our services even more effective and successful. Man’s best friend is now a friend of the Phoenix House.

Learn more about services at Phoenix House Counseling Center.

If you or a loved one needs help for substance abuse, call us today at 1 888 671 9392 or send us an email.

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