It’s a bit reminiscent of an age-old herbal remedy that has benefited countless people for centuries, but science is just beginning to “catch up” and verify its true powers. That’s basically how it is with pets as therapy animals.
Recent advances in mental health treatment are giving animals a bigger place than ever before. And it’s not uncommon for pets to be certified as emotional support animals (ESAs) and “prescribed” to patients.
“Pet therapy” is becoming that missing piece of the puzzle in the world of mental health, finding a niche in the treatment of a wide array of conditions, including: PTSD, dementia, autism, clinical depression, and even substance abuse.
Taking care of a pet, grooming it, and interacting with it is now part of animal assisted therapy programs at numerous treatment centers all across the US, as well as with out-patients at home.
And the therapy doesn’t have to end when you leave a care center or your own home, provided you get your pet certified as an ESA. Here’s a site where you can get started on securing emotional support animal letters for dogs & more | ESA Co..
Here are three specific areas where therapy animals are improving the health of us humans:
Although animal therapy can reduce stress and help alleviate all manner of mental health issues, depression is one of the top disorders for which ESAs are prescribed.
The mere act of “petting” a pet triggers the release of endorphins that can make people “feel better” emotionally. But the treatment also involves the idea that when people who are a depressed focus on the needs of a pet instead of on their own problems. That tends to lessen the severity, at least, of depression, if not eliminate it.
By developing a feeling of sympathy, even empathy, with the animal, the depressed often don’t feel so alone or so obsessed with what’s wrong in the world and in their own lives.
A second big area where pet therapy has made a huge impact is in animal visitation programs to nursing homes and other assisted-living centers.
Often, those with dementia, but also Alzheimer’s and other conditions, showed improved spirits and fewer negative symptoms after months of structured interactions with dogs and cats. Patients become more alert, more social, and more relaxed.
In particular, those suffering from “sundown syndrome” in the evenings have often experienced fewer and less severe incidents when a therapy animal was present.
Surprisingly to many, animal therapy strategies have also shown promise in the arena of substance abuse treatment programs.
Animals tend to help the addicted remain calmer during withdrawal. And interactions with pets and focusing on their needs makes it easier to stop thinking about oneself and one’s own cravings.
Dogs or other therapy animals have also often been made a centerpiece of group counseling sessions for substance abuse patients. The mere presence of the animal tends to make it easier for everyone else present to openly converse, feel at ease, and even have some fun moments in an otherwise (potentially) tense session.
These are only three ways that pet therapy has been making inroads in the medical community. The therapeutic role of animals in the lives of humans is clearly growing, be it privately with an emotional support animal or be it in an explicitly clinical setting.