Becoming a Macoholic – Benefits of Malamute Therapy in Recovery

June 1st 2016, By Robert Freitas, ASW  — Leave a comment


Robert Freitas  Suffering from substance use and co-occurring issues was literally like walking through hell. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effects left me broken on a very deep level. I felt isolated from others, society, and from myself. I was disconnected from all that I once loved and adored. I spiraled down into a pit of despair, self-loathing, guilt and shame. It was an experience that only those who have known addiction can truly relate to. The road to recovery was rocky in the early years with several relapses, and failed attempts at traditional 12 steps programs. Returning to the “rooms” I felt judged and humiliated. Granted some of this was in my head as many members welcomed me back with open arms. Eventually, the tools of recovery took root and I have been slowly piecing my life back together as the years roll by. Recovery has been a journey that has involved dusting off old tools, and developing new ones. As a therapist, sponsor, CEO and founder of Tailored Transitions I have had the opportunity to share my tools and create options for people that are walking through the most difficult experience of their lives.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” – Buddhist Proverb

Before I could be a teacher, a therapist, and a recovery coach…I needed to become a student. And as the Buddhist proverb goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” There have been many teachers along the road to recovery. Part of the journey involves remaining teachable. One of my greatest teachers has been, and continues to be, the Alaskan Malamute (specifically Balou & Timber – seen above). When I felt stigmatized by friends, family, and society my Mals showed me unconditional love and acceptance. Their smiling faces were always ready to greet me at the door. They didn’t care about the mistakes I made. It was (and still is) for them – irrelevant. My process has been one of learning to channel my obsessive nature into more productive and spiritual outlets. I have grown to recognize obsession as a strength rather than a weakness, but it must be focused on things that bring joy, love, and purpose to a person’s life. In some sense, I have ex-changed one addiction for another. In a way I went from alcoholic/addict to a Malcoholic!


(Artwork by Robin Twete of Rockin Da Shirts)

Pet-assisted therapy is nothing new to mental health or substance use treatment. The benefits have been well documented and it continues to be useful in hospitals, prisons, and rehabs alike. Different variations of pet therapy (i.e. equine, wolf therapy, etc.) are proving to be valuable with individuals struggling with a variety of presenting problems ranging from medical conditions to mental health disorders. Some of the benefits of pet-assisted therapy with those recovering from substance include but are not limited to:

  • Increased ability to connect
  • Increase in empathy
  • Learning to be present (mindfulness)
  • Unconditional love
  • Learning to be of service (i.e. walking, feeding, grooming, etc.)
  • Self-soothing effects decreasing stress/anxiety
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased attentiveness
  • Selflessness
  • Increased ability to socialize
  • Decrease in physical pain
  • Increased sense of spirituality
  • Release of endorphins

These benefits are not just useful in early recovery, but can be extremely valuable with maintaining long-term recovery and relapse prevention. They teach us accountability, uplift our spirits, prompt us to exercise, model mindfulness, show us the meaning of selfless service, and love us when we are struggling to love ourselves.  They increase happiness for pet lovers. They change the way we feel without the need to put substances in our bodies. It’s a simple solution to complex problems. The commonly used cliché of “keep it simple” applies and is relevant.

I try to use the tools that have worked for me and incorporate them into treatment plans for others. I frequently ask myself, “what am I doing in my daily life that keeps me happy, joyous, and free from active addiction?” I take real life tools and apply them to clinical models to help people overcome the grips of addiction. There are applications of Malamute therapy that can be applied to live-in recovery approaches and inpatient facilities alike. Not everyone can bring a horse home with them to continue their equine therapy. Similarly, wolves (although beautiful) are not domesticated animals that can be legally brought into the home to continue wolf-therapy after inpatient treatment. Malamutes have the same majestic, free spirited temperaments while being amazing pets for those that aren’t afraid of hard work, grooming, and a lot of fur!

The Alaskan Malamutes are referred to as “gently giants,” and have unique malamute smile that can uplift a person’s mood. They are family dogs and welcome us as part of their pack. The application of malamute therapy through a live-in recovery approach can teach a person very specific tools that can be carried over after a formal treatment program. They become a part of your life and apart of your recovery.

Timber (Timber)

It should be noted that Alaskan Malamutes, dogs, and pets in general are a tremendous responsibility. Pet-assisted therapy is not a standalone solution to recovery, but should be used in conjunction with a variety of therapeutic, self-help, and traditional approaches. Those in early recovery must be solidified in their recovery process and able to care for their pets or have support in doing so. Addiction is ruthless and can quickly lead to animal neglect. The idea is to not neglect yourself, your pets and/or your loved ones any longer, but rather to find things in your life to nurture and love. We get back what we put into things. If you put love and affection into your relationship with your pet (or anything else for that matter), then you will get love and acceptance in return. And love, is at the solution to many problems…including addiction and mental health!

Alaskan Malamutes (and other dogs of course) are available for rescue. For certain individuals, this is an opportunity to save another life and help save yours in the process.


Twete, R., (2015).  Rockin Da Moots & Rockin Da Shirts. “Malcoholic” Image retrieved from:



20160208_Robert_Freitas-SELECTS_0075_WEB  Robert Freitas, MSW is the founder & CEO of Tailored Transitions and a therapist registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. He is graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) and holds a Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in mental health. Robert is a passionate member of the recovery community who is dedicated to supporting those struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders through an integrated approach. He is leading the paradigm shift in treatment through his clinical coaching model which combines recovery coaching with therapeutic modalities.

6 Benefits to the Live-In Recovery Approach

May 28, 2016 by Robert Freitas, ASW — Leave a comment


banner-161x161   Obviously substance use disorders is a highly prevalent and expensive public health problem in the United States and in other industrialized countries all over the world. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS, 2012) estimates 22.2 million Americans 12 years and older meet the criteria for a formal substance use disorder. Unfortunately, of those struggling with addiction only approximately 1.5 million (0.6%) Americans have reported being treated for drug addiction in the past year. Not only are people dying in staggering numbers, but we are shelling out billions (over $600 billion) to combat this epidemic. Something is definitely not working efficiently and we are in desperate need of alternative approaches to treat people effectively. One of the newest and fastest growing approaches is the live-in, recovery coaching models of care. At Tailored Transitions, we would argue that this innovative practice, when done properly, has some excellent benefits that are leading to successful outcomes and long-term recovery. Some of those are as follows:


The client-centered approach originated with the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Rogers was regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and affirmed that people are inherently good and have an actualizing tendency to reach for their potential. The client-centered approach is a non-directive form of interaction in which the client drives the treatment based on their intrinsic desire for self-actualization. Both therapists and recovery coaches alike are moving toward a client-driven treatment plan with client-driven goals and action plans. This is now accepted as a best-practice by most clinicians working in recovery and mental health. It requires that the therapist, counselor or recovery coach remain empathetic, non-judgmental, accepting, genuine and collaborate with the client with unconditional positive regard. Through a live-in model of care, clinicians are able to see the client in every facet of their life. They see them at home, work and in the community. They see them engaging in interpersonal relationships. They see them in their natural environment on good days, and bad. This allows them to show acceptance of the client’s mood, behaviors, and emotions in a way that is not available in an inpatient rehab or intensive outpatient program. Not to say that clinicians cannot, or do not remain client-centered in those settings, but obviously doing this in a person-in-environment approach has additional therapeutic benefits.


This is a phrase so over-used in mental health and treatment. However, it is still regarded as a “best practices” approach to recovery and therapy. Many times it is referred to in relation to the Transtheoretical (TTM) or Stages of Change Model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983). According to this modality, a person falls within one of six stages. It is our job to coach them, cheer them and guide them through the stages. However, we must accept where they are in this process. We must accept where they are when they enter treatment. We must accept what their goals are and what they wish to achieve. It’s not our job to decide this for them, but rather to “meet them where they are at” in their process and help them make thoughtful decisions about how to get where they want to be. This is a practice implemented in therapy, IOP’s and inpatient rehabs. However, they are limited to the extent that they are able to meet the client where they are at. They have removed the client from their natural environment. Through a live-in, PIE approach clinicians are able to literally meet the client where they are at in every sense of the phrase. We go to them, and stay with them 24/7 for the duration of services. We meet them where they are at physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually in every moment throughout every day. We meet them through a client-centered, strength-based approach and gently coach them in the direction of self-actualization in a way virtually impossible through traditional methods of treatment, therapy and recovery.


For many reasons a holistic approach to recovery is regarded in the profession as a best practice. It has many definitions and is usually referred to in relation to treating multiple facets of a person’s ailment (i.e. mind, body & spirit). It affirms that a problem (such as drug use) cannot, and should not, be treated as separate, but rather, must be viewed in relation to the person as a whole. For example, it is commonly understood that to sustain long-term recovery you must not merely focus on just the substance use, but the co-occurring issues that lead to the desire to alter one’s state.

“Characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.”


“Characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.”

Through a live-in approach, clinicians are in an optimal position to treat the person as a whole and implement holistic practices that focus on a variety of signs and symptoms impacting a person’s overall wellness. Live-in counselors, therapists and coaches can work toward assisting the client develop and utilize tools that improve physical health (i.e. nutritional & fitness), mental and emotional regulation (i.e. self-soothing techniques, cognitive reframing, etc.), and spirituality. Furthermore, when approached through a ecological systems theory the live-in model can start addressing not only the client as a whole, but micro, mezzo and macro systems impacting the individual. For example, the assigned therapist/coach can collaborate to address family issues or interpersonal relationships at work on a mezzo level.


For those well-versed in addiction, or those that have been directly impacted by substance use, it is common knowledge that it is not just the addict suffering, but the entire family. Co-dependency, unmanageability, legal/financial matters, interpersonal relationships, anger, fear, confusion, sadness and health issues plague the entire family unit. The family unit is in need of coping skills to adequately walk through the storm without relapsing on behaviors. Traditional rehabs and IOP’s incorporate family sessions into their treatment plans to address these issues. Similarly, live-in models of care serve the entire family when done correctly.

Recovery starts and ends at home!

The live-in approach to recovery and wellness allows the staff insight into the family’s presenting problems and supports them in their home as conflicts arise. Each family member will have unique challenges that call for a tailored action plan or linkage to resources to recover. Live-in recovery programs allow staff to be there moment-to-moment to assist them implement tools or conduct sessions as problems arise. Developing connections among family and maintaining peace and serenity in the home is essential for recovery starts and ends at home.


Inpatient rehabs also offer 24 hour, moment-to-moment care which can be beneficial under certain circumstances. However, the live-in approach to treatment/recovery offers a person-in-environment (PIE) value that will not be available in a rehab environment. Person-in-environment PIE is based on a model developed by social workers in attempts to move away from the dual construct of either being completely person-focused or environment-focused.  PIE bridges the gap and examines the interaction between the person and his/her environment while specifically addressing problems and highlighting strengths in categories such as:

  • Social Roles in Relationships with Others
  • Social Environment
  • Mental Health
  • Physical Health

There is no better way to address the interaction between a person and his/her environment then by stepping into that environment. This gives the assigned clinician a unique insight into the interplay between the two constructs which gives them the ability to gain more thorough and accurate assessment information. A more accurate and thorough assessment will lead to a treatment plan that is more individualized or tailored to the client’s needs. Live-in, 24 hour care in a person’s environment gives the client access to strategies, interventions and support as stressors, triggers and cravings arise moment-to-moment in their everyday lives. Rehabs may educate clients on tools during their inpatient stay, but they are not with them when they need to use them after they are back at home. This is a problem because all it takes is one moment for a relapse to occur in early recovery.


It should be noted that this author is a member and avid supporter of traditional 12 step communities. A sponsor and support group developed in programs such as AA/NA are extremely valuable for many people (including myself). However, within the literature and meetings you will hear it stated that some people need outside help. A sponsor is not a licensed therapist, certified recovery coach, drug and alcohol counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Although life experience is a valuable asset, it does not give one the formal education necessary to support someone with mental health or co-occurring disorders. A reputable live-in recovery coach company such as Tailored Transitions provides certified, licensed and competent staff to address clinical needs that may be impacting the likelihood of success. A person’s treatment plan should include trained staff with the credentials to treat the client based on the level of severity of the presenting symptoms. In many cases, this may mean assigning a therapist to act as a clinical recovery coach or having a therapist work in collaboration with a licensed mental health clinician. It is important to ask the company who’s services you wish to obtain if their staff is licensed, certified AND if they are acting under clinical supervision to assure best practices and the highest level of clinical care. There are evidenced-based practices (EBP’s) that have been proven to effective in treating substance use and related disorders. Therapeutic modalities that are tailored to a person’s presenting problem can only be offered by those working within the scope of their practice. The live-in approach allows the staff the ability to extend evidenced-based interventions outside of the therapy session or inpatient facility and into a person’s natural environment. As soon as insurance companies recognize this, the benefits of this model of care can be more readily available to a wider population of people in need.


Although live-in recovery models of treatment can be used in lieu of traditional approaches, they can also be used in collaboration with them as pre-care or aftercare programs. There needs to be a variety of individualized programs to meet the needs of the clients. We cannot expect to remove one from their environment and then return them to that environment without the support they need to walk through the most challenging process of their lives. As mentioned, there are many benefits to stepping into the real life situations faced by individuals in the grips of addiction. It allows for a more realistic and higher quality of care which increases the likelihood of successful outcomes. Through this model of care, multifaceted issues can be addressed including biopsychosocial presenting problems and systemic issues. There are added benefits to the clinician, as well as the client and their families. Addiction can feel like being lost in the dark. Through a live-in approach, clinicians are able to act as a beacon, lighting up a path to limitless horizons and potentiality.

20160208_Robert_Freitas-SELECTS_0075_WEB Robert Freitas, MSW is the founder & CEO of Tailored Transitions, a member of the Board of Directors for the International Association of Addictions Professionals (IAAP), and a therapist registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. He is graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) and holds a Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in mental health. Robert is a passionate member of the recovery community who is dedicated to supporting those struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders through an integrated approach. He is leading the paradigm shift in treatment through his clinical coaching model which combines recovery coaching with therapeutic modalities.