Pet-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health

By: Rita Brisley (Matron)

“Pako” – Bel Esprit Alternative Therapist

Pet-Assisted Therapy-how animals help patients combat mental illness. Patients are benefitting from the company of a therapy dog to help with their treatment for stress, anxiety and depression.

Where appropriate and where patients are keen, they can interact with a dog, and some choose to pat and stroke, or groom and hug, as they participate in therapy. This helps provide comfort in moments of distress and helps to rebuild self-esteem.

Animals works as a great ice breaker in one-to-one and group therapy sessions. They lift the spirits of patients on ward visits. Petting or stroking a dog does wonders for your blood pressure and stress levels.

Animal therapy are a big success because patients don’t feel judged by a dog, who is able to display unconditional acceptance, and they feel more confident to confront their issues.

How can pet-assisted therapy help patients?

Pet-assisted activities encourage patients to have conversations with their therapist, as well as with their fellow patients. This can be helpful in promoting social interaction and breaking down barriers, emotionally and in social context.

Animals can trigger the release of endorphins, a feel-good neurotransmitter which gives a calming effect and boosts the level of serotonin, a chemical linked with happiness and wellbeing.

By directing one’s attention towards another living thing, a patient’s focus is drawn away from his or her own difficulties and, for a while, they can distance themselves from their distress and then begin talking about their own issues and consider ways forward.

In this way, pet-assisted therapy enables a patient to work with a professional towards attaining clinical goals.

Universities worldwide are turning to therapy dogs to relieve their student’s pre-exam nerves and first-term homesickness.

Studies have found that just the presence of a dog can help lower levels of stress and anxiety and help patients feel more at home.

How do therapy dogs differ from assistance dogs?

A therapy dog is different from an assistance dog, which will have special training to provide support for someone with a disability, or for someone living with conditions such as epilepsy.

A therapy dog needs to be calm and react well to other people’s tears, sudden noises and movements, provides comfort to patients in moments of distress.

Therapy dogs helps build trust between the patient and therapist, helps reduce stress, boost self-esteem and generally improve mood. Bull Terriers are effective as therapy dogs because, despite their fearsome reputation and the bad press they sometimes receive, are very loving and very people orientated.

Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Really Work?

Therapy animals assist therapists in helping clients with a multitude of goals such as improving self-steam and developing social skills, as well as providing help for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They also work in a wide variety of clinical settings from psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy:

Animals have a positive impact on lives. Animals promote an increase in patient participation in group therapy and changes in patient behavior. Practical skills such as hygiene and self-care, specifically for patients with severe mental health issues, could be addressed more easily and with less discomfort in animals’ presence.

Animal-assisted therapy can also help individuals develop social skills, helps clients realize behavioral cues practiced with a therapy animal can be used beyond 45 minutes than they are with the animal and apply this skills to other settings whether it’s getting along with their peers or talking to their counselor.

The relationship between the therapy animal and the therapist can also be a model for a healthy relationship, clients gain information about how to form and maintain relationships and trust by watching how a therapist responds to the animal and the animal responds to the therapist. That interaction helps the client feel safer in a session.

The presence of animals themselves is soothing and can more quickly build rapport between therapist and client. In addition, therapy animals, especially horses and dogs, have built-in survival skills. That makes them able to pick up social cues’ imperative to human relationships.

Animal-assisted therapy are powerful, they accept you for the way you are, flaws and all, are forgiving and always happy to see you. Their behavior is just so consistent and so consistently happy that it’s just comforting to people knowing that there is a being there that you can always count on to be happy to see you and not judge you for anything you’ve done.