Medical Moment: Using wolf therapy to battle addiction

Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 6:02 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Group therapy, 12-step programs, one-on-one counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, the list goes on and on when it comes to treating addiction.

But could animals be the answer? There’s no doubt, dogs and humans connect. But can people and wolves also experience a healing bond? And could they help people beat their addictions? We think of them as ferocious predators, but could they also be gentle healers?

“I felt very calm and relaxed and stress-free,” recalled Morgan Aitken, a recovering alcoholic. “And my mind was clear when I was around Miquan.”

Morgan Aitkan is 112 days sober. Wolf therapy helped to transform her life.

“She came here and said, ‘I don’t wanna live like this anymore,’” said DeAnna Crosby, the clinical director at New Method Wellness. “’I’m suffering, I’m dying. I’m drinking every day. It’s killing me.’ And then she went to the wolves and the wolves don’t see any of that.”

New Method Wellness therapist Deanna Crosby says wolves instinctively know which patient needs their help the most.

“They’ve gone through trauma. They’ve lived in the wild. They see, they walk up to you and they just see you and you don’t have to pretend anything anymore,” Crosby explained.

One common bond? The power of “the pack.”

“Addiction is about a lack of connection. That’s why addicts connect to each other. And, that’s why they run in a pack. The best thing you can do to treat an addict is help them with connection,” Crosby said.

“Having the courage to be vulnerable and to open ourselves up to this new experience so that we can authentically connect,” said Ryan Lamb, owner of Living Life in Recovery.

The wolves help to teach addicts about boundaries and respect. Benefits include reduced depression and anxiety, increased self-control, improved interpersonal skills, and elevated self-esteem. They helped Morgan find the strength to stop drinking.

“The wolf walks up and licks her face and everything changes,” Crosby said. “And it’s like one connection she has that loves her unconditionally.”

Morgan’s now back to work and is planning to face another fear and go back to college.

“Having her around has helped us be more relaxed and know that we’re gonna be okay and that we’re gonna get through all this,” Aitken finished.

The wolves are trained and certified as therapy dogs. They live in a wolf sanctuary that rescues hurt wolves and discarded wolf-dogs who were abandoned by their owners.