Psychologists Recommend Pet Therapy


Have you ever thought that animals, like dogs or cats, can speed up your healing process if you’re sick, depressed, or simply feeling down? Indeed, they can! Pet therapy is a growing trend that’s taking the healthcare industry by storm today. Even psychologists recommend the use of pet therapy for some individuals.

“There is extensive research on whether animal-assisted therapy works, and compelling data shows that pets have the ability to relieve stress, anxiety, and provide comfort to patients,” writes Elena Blanco-Suarez Ph.D.

If you notice, some institutions allow the entrance of pets in their buildings. That’s because they are aware of how essential pets are to people. They are not just pets. Dogs, cats, and other animals are family. And how is a family to you? A family is your support system, right? With this, so is your pet. It can be your emotional support.

“When people see pets as family members, their companion animals are granted membership in people’s most important social group, giving them an anthropomorphism boost that, in turn, equips them with more socially-supportive capacity,” writes Allen R McConnell Ph.D.

Learn more about pet therapy in this article and why therapists with training use this method to counsel their clients.

Pet Therapy Defined

Pet therapy is an alternative treatment plan which involves a friendly yet therapeutic interaction between an animal and an ailing person. It is basically divided into two different concepts, animal-assisted therapy, and animal-assisted activities.

Animal-assisted therapy incorporates animals such as dogs and cats into a person’s treatment plan. The pets are used by people to help themselves recuperate or cope with their illnesses, which may include cancer, heart ailments, and mental health disturbances. Animal-assisted therapy can be an alternative treatment, or it may also be complementary to the existing medical treatment plan of a patient.


Animal-Assisted Therapy: How It Works

Here is a scenario to help you better understand how animal-assisted therapy works.

A sick woman visits her primary hospital to follow-up with her physician regarding her upcoming hospitalization for a procedure. After being examined by the doctor, he informs her about the animal-assisted therapy program of the hospital. He asks if she wants to give it a try while being confined in the hospital, and the woman agrees.

The day of her procedure and hospital admission comes. The woman is already in her room, recuperating from her surgery. Since she opted in for the animal-assisted therapy program, an assistance dog and its handler came to visit her at that time.

The dog and his handler stayed with the woman for 10-15 minutes in her room. She was encouraged by the handler to pet the dog and asked any questions she might have about the therapy. The assistance dog willingly cuddled with the woman during this time.

After 15 minutes, the canine and handler duo left. The recuperating woman realizes that she generally feels better than before the visit occurred. She had renewed optimism about her illness. And she’s smiling from ear to ear! She’s eager to tell her family and friends about that pleasant pet visit, and she’s also highly anticipating the next visit from that beautiful canine.

Who Benefits From This Therapy?

Generally speaking, any person with a health problem can significantly benefit from animal-assisted therapy. But it is especially helpful in certain groups of people. It has been shown that animal-assisted treatment dramatically reduces anxiety, pain, tiredness, and depression in these people:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder patients
  • Residents of long-term healthcare facilities and nursing homes
  • Elderly persons suffering from dementia
  • Persons with anxiety
  • Cancer patients
  • Persons with heart problems
  • Kids about to undergo medical and dental procedures

Animal-assisted therapy is also beneficial outside medical scenarios. It is utilized in various universities to ease the anxiety of students and help them cope up with their studies. Community programs dedicated to improving the wellness of people also use animal-assisted therapy to provide stress relief to participants.

“The researchers were able to conclude that ‘The results of our study indicate that therapy dog sessions considerably reduce stress and improve aspects of student well‐being.’ This was even though the therapy involved a single brief session with the dogs in a festival-like setting,” writes Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC.


Any Risks To Pet Therapy?

Some people express their concern for sanitation and safety in the use of animals to help people with medical conditions. After all, animals carry a risk of harm through bites and introduction of allergens in the air.

However, there’s no need to worry about these risks. Animals used in pet therapy are spotless, gentle, and well-trained. This is because of the strict rules that animal handlers must abide by before their pets become animal assistants. Facilities and hospitals are keen to implement stringent regulations in the selection and deployment of pets in their respective animal-assistance therapy programs.

It doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. Did you know that a horse is a second-most used animal for therapy sessions? Well, it is, and the treatment is very soothing.

You can try it at home. Take care of a pet. It can be a fish or a cat. You can try a guinea pig or a mouse, even. Just pick one that you will want to “befriend.” Love it. Nurture it. Care for it. In return, the same feelings of love will radiate back to you. Now, isn’t that therapy enough?

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