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The benefits of Dolphin Assisted Therapy

Published on 08. 05. 2016

Hawaii Island Recovery, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center located on the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island has initiated a unique Experiential Therapy program that interfaces their clients with wild Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. HIR is the first and only known rehab to incorporate non-captive dolphins into a treatment program. HIR believes an unscripted encounter with these extraordinary mammals has a tremendously positive impact on their clients and will support the recovery process. 


The benefits of Animal Assisted Therapies have been well established in the treatment of mental health disorders as well as addiction. Animals of all sorts, from dogs to elephants, have been enlisted to help alleviate symptoms of a wide range of diagnoses and developmental disabilities. Dolphins in captivity have been used with children with autism and adults with PTSD. 

But what if these encounters happened in the wild? What if the dolphins had no fish incentive to engage with you? What if they could swim away, but chose not to? Herein lies the power of this encounter…. it happens in their environment and on their terms. 

Dolphins have long captured our collective imaginations with their keen intellect and playful disposition. But they are far more complex then most of us realize. Dolphins are exquisitely adapted to their watery environment. They can create mental pictures in their dark and murky world using echolocation, they can stun prey with their vocalizations, they can communicate with one another over many miles of ocean, and they have a rich social and emotional life. 

Observers believe dolphins experience grief, loneliness, anger, and depression as well as love, attachment, happiness and humor. It is no wonder we see so much of ourselves in them. Above all, we share a mutual respect and unending curiosity about each other which HIR believes is the invitation to engage with these extraordinary creatures. 


An encounter with a wild dolphin evokes many emotions and each encounter is unlike any other. It is unpredictable and uncontrolled. To many people in recovery this may be a metaphor for their own lives and may serve as a launching point for reflection and actions that will guide them not only through the dolphin encounter, but onward through their recovery. 

Interacting with wild dolphins may inspire, awaken, teach, humble, frighten... to be sure, this experience is unique to each client. Working closely with their Animal Assisted Psychotherapy Specialist both in and out of the water, it is her job to ensure the encounter is both safe and meaningful. 

Hawaii Island Recovery believes our Dolphin Assisted Psychotherapy (DAP) program will help clients address mental health issues underlying their addictive behavior. Self awareness, healthy boundaries, emotional self-regulation and effective communication, are but a few of the issues that have come to the foreground during our DAP sessions. 

HIR is uniquely situated to provide this extraordinary service. We believe the DAP program, in conjunction with a full compliment of effective treatment modalities, supports the essential building blocks of a successful, long-term recovery.


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