Bryan has been going to therapy sessions after he lost both of his parents from a horrific car accident. He reported to his therapist that there have been no changes since he started going for psychological intervention for his depression. His therapist patiently explained that time is not the essence of the healing process. Some people recover faster some don’t. The important thing is that if they do recover from the trauma, the goals of reconciliation, finding peace, and moving on to the next chapter of their lives are established.
But Bryan wants to regain his normal life again. Not that he wants to forget about his parents; he wants to face the world with optimism, energy, and enthusiasm just like before the accident. Then he met Sam, a volunteer who advocates for animal therapy. Sam has a Labrador and they visit a nearby children’s hospital every Saturday and a home facility for seniors every Sunday. Bryan got curious and started to go along with Sam in these visits. Then the weeks turned into months and Bryan was seen improving both in his social, emotional and psychological aspects.
What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?
If you are an animal lover, you can easily understand why some persons would suggest to go get a pet. Animals are proven to provide physical and mental benefits to humans. Therapy animals are a way for people in lonely, stressful, or traumatic situations that might not be able to own pets to share in the health benefits. Therapy animals, often dogs, are used in retirement and nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, for veterans, and people with disorders or disabilities. Some people even have therapy pets, specifically for the health benefits that animal companionship provides.
Melissa Burns, LCPC, LLC explains that “Animals offer support and nonjudgmental healing opportunities and can serve as a bridge for patients to bond with their healthcare providers.” Animals used for this type of program gets accredited and certified together with their owners. Certain training and preparations are made to make the animal more therapeutic to the patients they are visiting. If you are interested to join, you can visit Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International for more information.
Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
Many studies and researches have proven the benefits of having a pet or having an interaction with one. In one study appeared in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, nurses made observations that animals were able to relieve loneliness and boredom, foster social interaction, and add variety to the lives of elderly persons. In children, pets aid in the speech and emotional disorders. Dogs, especially, are very effective among persons who are suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. According to Phyllis Laughlin, LCPC, “Some people benefit from anti-depressants for symptom relief. Pet therapy is often beneficial, whether it’s an animal at home or a therapy service dog.”
Owning a pet can also give positive physical benefits. Walking the dog every day can help lower blood pressure and increase energy levels. This activity improves cardiovascular health as the person is able to move and prevent from being stationary. The overall feeling of interacting with your pet allows the release of happy hormones called endorphins. The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, which is believed to reduce the amount of medication needed by some people.
Megan Walsh, LCPC said “It’s truly amazing the lessons humans can learn from animals. Pets rejoice in life’s simple pleasures.” But once again, just like any therapy programs, it is highly encouraged to never stop from going to your mental health professional for consultations and follow-ups. Make sure that you share to your therapist that you are involved in this program and cite the benefits that it brings you.