Pet Therapy

1 October 2010

First of all, you may be wondering, what is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy?  It is any kind of therapy that includes the addition of a pet to further facilitate healing.  There are many, many organizations that include pets as part of the therapy team such as hospitals, youth centers, and nursing homes, and most of them work with agencies that certify the animals such as Therapy Dogs International, the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (EAGALA), and the Delta Society to name a few.

The field of pets as therapists is really expanding, for example dogs can be trained to smell cancer and other forms of tumors and recently Psychiatric Service Dog Society, a newly formed organization to focus specifically on how dogs can support the mental health of humans, has worked with dogs trained to alert their owners to hypomanic episodes (the symptom experienced by people with bipolar illness that is the opposite of the depression and can have serious consequences).

Studies have been done to show that interaction with a pet can alleviate anxiety, increase survival rates for heart attack victims, reduce blood pressure, and increase self-esteem (I read this in Marc Bekoff’s, The Emotional Lives of Animals, but these studies are widely available).

As you have likely experienced, there is a lot happening in the field of interaction, or “Space” as I discussed in my last blog, between you and the animal, and in my opinion there are probably lots of connections occurring between the right-brains (that part of the brain that processes nonverbal communication among others things) of each. continue reading »