What’s animal therapy for?
Mental health problems are more common than people think. It affects us emotionally, psychologically and socially. A person who’s mentally ill or impaired finds it difficult to think, behave, act or feel normally. Not only does affect adults but also children from an early age due to stressful lifestyles, school problems, traumas or even sexual abuse.
Mental health problems can affect anyone in the course of his/her life. In this sense, people aren’t able to enjoy life fully. Mental disorders range from minor problems such as sadness, stress, panic attacks to more complex problems like depressions, suicide thoughts, eating disorders, among others.
It’s believed that in the USA almost 4.5% of adults suffer from mental health disorders. It means you’re not alone. It affects people from any ethnicity, sex, social class and gender. No matter what a person is going through there’s a wide range of therapies tailored for everyone.
What’s animal-assisted therapy?
A well-known therapy that suits people of all ages with different health problems is animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy. This treatment- which is becoming more and more popular these days- uses dogs or other animals to help patients to cope with and recover from a mental health disorder.
This therapy is based on the premise of the human-animal bond. It means that there’s a natural bond between people and animals, an inner desire to connect and interact with animals since- after all- human beings are rational animals.
How does it work?
People who are interested in this kind of therapy can enroll in an animal-assisted program. Doctors will determine what kind of animal suits best the patient based on his/her mental disease and the kind of therapy the patient needs. BetterHelp can provide more information about the subject. The animals that a person chooses the most are dogs, horses, or birds.
This treatment basically considers the bond between a person and the animal will produce a state of calm, reduce loneliness, improve his/her mood, reduce stress, and increase social interaction. Animal therapy has many benefits not only on the mind but also on the body helping the patient to recover his/her mental balance.
Animal-assisted programs have different goals depending on the patient’s disease; goals and the kind of aid a person needs will determine how the therapy works.
The first step in the animal-assisted program is to choose the right animal for the patient. Then, both the animal and the owner have to undergo a procedure to determine if they are suitable. The test includes a physical exam of the animal, obedience training, assessment of the animal behavior and temperament, and finally a certification issued by the sponsored organization.
Once the animal and the owner are approved, the pet is assigned to a particular therapy depending on its breed, size, age, and natural behavior will determine where it can serve.
During the treatment, the therapy basically involves the animal’s owner- who is called the handler- bringing the animal to each session. The handler will work together with doctors and the animal in the patient’s healing process. During each session, the animal’s owner will receive the doctor’s instructions and guidance to help the patient achieve his/her goal.
There are some organizations whose objective is the training of handlers. Then, they contact healthcare providers to volunteer themselves. However, it’s not an easy process to get certified since doctors will evaluate if the animal and the owner are appropriate for therapy use.
Animal-assisted therapy benefits
It’s proved that animal-assisted therapies provide a lot of benefits for patients who suffer from mental health problems.
In the first place, patients in the animal-assisted program improve their mood and show progress as regards control over their emotions. Also, thanks to the help of animals people improve their social as well as communication skills.
For those who suffer from anxiety or depression, animal-assisted therapy helps them to ease symptoms and reduce negative feelings, anger, sadness and the sense of loneliness.
Assisted therapy with dogs
According to some researches and studies, canine-assisted therapy provides help for patients under drug abuse rehab treatment. The main objective is to help them develop strategies to cope with life once their body is drug-free.
This treatment usually takes an hour session once a week at a rehab center where patients socialize and interact with dogs. The main goal is they can reveal personal information such as how they feel, what they’ve gone through, and the consequences of substance abuse.
Assisted therapy with horses
It’s been proven that equine-assisted therapy makes wonders with people who are mentally ill thanks to their potential in healing process of such patients. Many people who have gone through difficult experiences such as sexual abuse bond with horses while training them.
During this process, many people take care of animals and develop a sense of understanding about physical pain and how to respect other living things and treat them gently. This approach helps patients to heal wounds from the past and end a circle of violence.
Animal assisted programs show to be effective on people who suffer from any kind of mental disease. However, it doesn’t mean other treatments like drug abuse rehab, individual therapy or medication should be left aside. Pet therapy should work together with traditional approaches since they’re complementary.
This program helps people to take care of an animal and make them happy while- without realizing it- they also experience gratification in doing so. It means the sense of happiness is reciprocal.
Therapeutic healing in humans is effective through animal-assisted therapy. It can alleviate mental health symptoms, minimize pain and release endorphins associated with happiness which produce a soothing effect.