Animal Therapy for Mental Disorders
Interacting with animals can provide a number of benefits to individuals suffering from mental illnesses, and while these treatments have not been studied to the full extent of talk therapy or pharmacological options, animal- and pet-based therapy has been found to do amazing things for individuals living with mental disorders.
The Physical Effects Offset Psychological Benefits
Animal therapy has been found to create physical benefits that actually provide individuals living with mental disorders a solid foundation for recovery and change. A study cited by Winona State University “concluded that the very presence of a dog can… lower blood pressure,” decrease heart rate, and provide a host of other physical benefits. These often offset psychological effects that are helpful to the individual such as:
- Reduced anxiety
- Decreased stress levels
- Feelings of relaxation
- Alleviation of depression
- Greater self-esteem
When a person is with an animal and, especially, petting or interacting with one, the many benefits of this interaction occur quickly and are both physical and psychological, allowing for real breakthroughs, especially for those individuals who have trouble communicating with other humans.
Animal Therapy Increases Everyday Skills
Individuals coping with mental illness sometimes have trouble with basic communication or psychological skills, and animal therapy can be helpful in this area. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Working with animals, such as horses, dogs, or cats, may help some people cope with trauma, develop empathy, and encourage better communication.” These types of interactions can increase the basic skills that often elude individuals coping with mental illness and allow them to live fuller, happier lives. These programs can also prepare these individuals for talk therapy by giving them the skills they need to be able to gain more from their sessions.
Providing General Comfort
In many instances, individuals who have survived trauma, addiction, and other triggers or mental disorders often have difficulty feeling soothed or comfortable, and animal therapy can be a wonderful help to them. Because animals do not have agendas in the way that people do and interactions with them provide many of the physical and psychological benefits listed above, patients can begin to feel more at ease and comfortable in a treatment program if they are provided the option of pet therapy. This kind of treatment also does not normally ask as much of patients as talk therapy does, which is why it can be a great way to ease patients into a new comfort level with their recovery program.
A New Layer of Mental Health Treatment
While animal therapy can be beneficial to almost any individual with a mild to serious mental disorder, children especially have been found to respond well to this option (NIMH). Pet or animal therapy has been found to create a number of benefits for those in need of mental health treatment like trust building, reduced feelings of anger and hostility, and many of the others listed above. If you are interested in learning more about the ways in which animal therapy may be able to help you or a loved one in treating the symptoms of mental illness, call today.