Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash
This article first appeared on The Good Men Project and has been republished with permission.
What is animal therapy?
You may have heard of emotional support animals or pet therapy. Animal therapy is a form of mental health treatment where an animal assists in supporting people as they cope with emotional pain or any form of psychological or mental health issue. Many different animals can be used for this purpose. Most commonly, we see emotional support animals like dogs or cats, but other animals are used such as horses or even fish. Animal therapy used to be called animal-assisted therapy and is often called pet therapy.
How animal therapy helps improve your mental health
Animal therapy is a great way to support people with a variety of diagnoses including Anxiety, Depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more. It can also help people with social anxiety or agoraphobia. It can help both adults and children. Animal therapy can provide a sense of companionship or comfort and can help people of all ages develop an increased sense of empathy. The way animal therapy works is that a mental health provider will work with the client and the pet. Animal therapy will be provided by a doctor or mental health therapist, but there will also be an animal handler that’s involved in the process to help the client achieve their goals. The first thing that a person needs to do when pursuing animal therapy is to select an animal that they’re connected to and that makes the most sense for them. After the animal is selected, they’ll need to get an exam to make sure that they’re right for that person and the job. After they’re approved following the exam, animal therapy can begin.
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Dogs and animal therapy
Dogs are commonly used in animal therapy. You’ll see them working with individuals who live in their own homes as well as people who are currently in public institutions like hospitals or prisons. In places where patients don’t feel at home or might lack a sense of trust, having a dog present can make a person feel connected to a creature that they can rely on. Animal therapy can help people heal or feel calm when they’re very sick. Dogs provide a sense of joy and have an energetic nature that can help people feel better. Pet therapy can help in terms of breaking the boredom of living in an institution or center. Dogs are often chosen in animal therapy because they allow patients to get both psychological stimulation and physical stimulation. Since dogs are very active, individuals may also find an outlet in the form of exercise by taking the dog on a walk or playing with them. Sometimes, animal therapy can include taking care of the animal by feeding it, giving it a bath, and so on, but not always. Many people feel a connection to the dog that they work with that improves their overall wellbeing.
Service animals vs. therapy animals
While both improve people’s lives substantially and have an important role in the world of healthcare, service animals and therapy animals have very different jobs. Service animals are there to assist those with disabilities whereas therapy animals are used for therapeutic purposes. One big difference is that therapy animals and service animals have a different legal standing. While service animals are legally able to occupy public spaces such as food courts, restaurants, or retail stores to accommodate and assist the person. Therapy animals do not have the same legal rights as service animals. Service dogs are not encouraged to interact with the public whereas therapy animals are likely to interact with a variety of people while they’re working.
How animal therapy improves human relationships
When you’re working with an animal and you’re learning to be empathetic for the creature, it can help you develop a heightened sense of empathy for other human beings as well. You remember how loving you are towards the animal and can transfer that to your friendships or other interpersonal relationships. Animals are fully invested in their relationship with humans, so it offers a different form of companionship than that of which you’d have with other people. There’s no risk of being rejected with animals and they’re fully there to offer support, so you can practice your social skills when you work with your pet therapy animal without fearing rejection or other unpredictable responses. After doing animal therapy, your social skills and quality of life will improve.
Trying animal therapy can benefit your life
Animal therapy is a great way to benefit your psychological health. It can also augment treatment such as in-person or online therapy. It’s important to take care of your mental health whether you’re working with a professional online or in your local area. If you’re interested in animal therapy, talk to your therapist and see if it can enhance your experience and help you.