Canine Assisted Therapy
Spending time with a therapy dog can produce a number of mental health benefits, from enhanced relaxation to reduced stress and anxiety. Therapy dogs are carefully selected dogs that undergo intense, individualized training. Research has shown that spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog can lower anxiety by 24% and reduce levels of the stress hormone epinephrine by 17%.
I have personally experienced the multitude of benefits a therapy dog can provide. As a result, I chose to certify my mixed breed dog, Ginger, who went through the rigorous training to achieve certification by The Delta Society. She joined me in my office from 2011, when I opened my practice, until she retired in 2014. Her gentle nature helped clients feel at ease. I am now currently training Esme, a dachshund mix, who is set to join my practice in January 2018.
Some of the benefits researchers have found with Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT):
- Physiological benefits - positive effects on the basic functioning of the body; many people are able to relax, showing a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, when an animal is present.
- Empathy - identifying with and understanding the feelings and motives of others. For example, if a client views herself as stubborn and the animal with which she is interacting with is stubborn, this allows the client to see her own behavior objectively.
- Outward focus - bringing individuals out of themselves; animals can help individuals to integrate mindfulness into therapy.
- Nurturing - promoting growth and development.
- Rapport - building a relationship of mutual trust or a feeling of connection or bonding.
- Acceptance - favorable reception or approval; an animal's acceptance is nonjudgmental, forgiving and unconditional.
- Mental stimulation - the presence of an animal in the therapy room serves to brighten the atmosphere, increasing amusement, laughter and play.
- Physical contact - touch; therapists are extremely limited in their ability to provide soothing touch to clients so animals can help with this.