Has this ever happened to you? You’ve just had a stressful day—maybe projects are piling up at work, or you’re experiencing difficulties in your marriage, with your kids, or over finances—and now you’re on the verge of tears. Then suddenly, a stranger’s dog spots you from afar and trots over to greet you with a gaping smile. And as you start to pet its fur, you notice your stress is miraculously melting away.

Why is it that animals, whether it’s a friendly dog, fluffy cat, or a horse at a stable, can make humans feel more energetic, calmer, and even hopeful?

According to Psychology Today, the presence of an animal can help you feel more comfortable and safer. And as pets often represent a source of joy and pleasure, they tend to divert our attention away from thoughts or situations that cause us to feel anxious or depressed. Animals are also non-judgmental, which makes it easier to open up to them and be ourselves. For this reason, it’s no wonder why mental health professionals are more open to the inclusion of animals into patient therapy programs.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy—or sometimes referred to as equine or canine-assisted therapy, depending on the type of animal being used—is a form of intervention that’s used to aid patients in emotional, physical, and social recovery. Whether an individual (or group) is recovering from an illness or trauma, living with a developmental condition, or coping with a mental health issue, a therapist may suggest the inclusion of an animal into your current therapy treatment.

When Did Animal-Assisted Therapy Become Recognized in the Mental Health Field?

The Alliance of Therapy Dogs suggest that humans have been using pets as a form of therapy since the ancient Greeks, when horses where used to improve the mental health of sick patients. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that medical health professionals began testing out different theories to prove how pets can actually improve functionality and coping mechanisms among humans.

Today, therapists who specialize in this field are incorporating animal-assisted therapy into different organizations and institutions, such as hospitals, nursing facilities, mental health centers, and prisons, to help patients living with a variety of health conditions have access to this treatment, which may help them reduce or replace the need for medication.

Top 5 Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy:

  1. Helps reduce blood pressure and risk of heart attack
  2. Encourages individuals to participate in mental health programs or group therapy programs
  3. Improves an individual’s self-esteem and social skills
  4. Helps reduce anxiety, depression, and grief
  5. Improves focus and one’s self-control

Is Animal-Assisted Therapy Right for Me?

Each person is different and will have an individual therapy program designed by an experienced therapist. Depending on the type of animal used in your therapy, you may live with your pet or care for your animal at a separate location. Aside from spending quality time and bonding with your pet, your therapist will help you plan goals and tasks to be completed and ways to measure success, as part of your mental health treatment plan.

To learn more about animal-assisted therapy or discuss whether this approach to treatment can benefit your health and wellness needs, contact the Calli Institute today!

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