When you read marketing material for drug, alcohol, and mental health rehabs, one of the buzzwords is individualized therapy. Everything is focused on the person in recovery getting better. In theory, this sounds like a reasonable approach to treating drug and alcohol abuse as well as mental health issues. But what if a treatment center went a step further and added a wrinkle to the therapy program.

One such example of a rehab “thinking outside the box,” is Inspirations for Youth and Families Teen Treatment and its incorporation of volunteer therapy into their program. So you ask how in the world volunteering can assist a person trying to quit their addiction. This is a fair question. The answer is simple. When a person volunteers for something whether it is a 5K run or blood drive – it gives them a feeling of self worth and purpose in life.

Let’s take the case of Paul Adams, as reported in a New York Times article. Volunteering Is Therapy For the Volunteers, Too. Adams spent years struggling with mental illness and learning how to function on his own. But it wasn’t until his aha moment when he realized the secret sauce to mental health well-being can be attained by reaching out to other vulnerable people. This would later prove to have an invaluable positive effect on his own well-being.

Mr. Adams participates in a rehabilitation program that helps mentally ill people work toward independence. As part of his treatment, Mr. Adams volunteers as a companion for elderly people. His responsibilities include escorting people to doctors’ offices, buying groceries, picking up prescriptions and even chatting on the telephone. In more than one case, the volunteers have helped elderly people to continue living independently rather than enter nursing homes.

“Before I started doing this, I would lie in bed and be depressed all day,” said Mr. Adams, who is going back to school now that the program has helped stabilize his life. “Volunteering gets my mind off my own burdens and makes me responsible.”

Volunteering therapy also has its place for Inspirations for Youth and Families, one of the most prominent teen treatment centers in the nation. Recently, Inspiration’s primary therapist, Avi Lawrence took the teens out to volunteer at Peaceful Ridge Rescue – a Non-Profit Organization that provides much needed medical and dental care, rehabilitation, and adoption services for rescued horses.

 Girls with horse

At Peaceful Ridge – the teens trudged through the mud and swatted away mosquitoes to help the horses – many who were emaciated by neglect and abuse. There job for the day – that they accepted with pride, dignity, and enthusiasm – was to chop down the brush to feed the horses and clean out the wateries using special brushes. The wateries get caked with mud and when the horses drink the mud it gets in their intestines which is dangerous and cause colic. According to Reiko Andes, a Board Member and Volunteer at Peaceful Ridge Rescue the horses can die from colic.

“While these teens are not helping elderly live an independent life like Paul Adams, doing something to save a horses life goes a long way in the drug, alcohol, and mental health recovery process,” said Avi Lawrence, a primary therapist at Inspirations for Youth and Families.