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and mental wellness
There is no psychiatrist in the world
like a puppy licking your face. ~Ben Williams
Pets have been proven to have a positive influence on our physical and mental health. Owning a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease. But research has found that pets are also therapeutic for people with mood and anxiety disorders and other psychiatric disorders.
Pet ownership provides many mental health benefits:
- Pets can help ease loneliness or isolation. They accept us for who we are and don't judge us.
- Physical contact is important to our mental health. Stroking and cuddling with a pet is therapeutic.
- Animals improve our mood with their companionship. We're also likely to laugh and feel more playful when we share our home with a pet.
- Pet owners are more active. The exercise we get from walking, feeding and grooming a pet keeps our minds healthy.
- Routine is beneficial in enhancing emotional stability. Caring for a pet provides a predictable routine and link to reality.
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Pet-Facilitated Therapy (PFT) bring animals to individuals or groups in treatment facilities and long-term care facilities to allow the animals to provide healing benefits to patients of physical and mental illnesses.
Preliminary studies of this therapy have shown that animals help people feel better and connect more to those around them. In one study, after animals were brought in to freely interact with a group of patients being treated for mood disorders, psychotic disorders, and other disorders, the patients showed a significant decrease in anxiety.
Dr. Allan N. Schwartz, CSW, Ph.D., a Boulder, Colorado clinical social worker and psychoanalyst, uses trained therapy dogs with his patients. Bonnie, a black Labrador Retriever, and Mingo, a Golden Retriever, excel at easing patients' tension. Both dogs are trained and licensed as emotional/psychiatric support dogs.
“When one of the dogs jumps up onto the couch with the patient,” he says, “she sparks conversation. People who are depressed, socially isolated or avoidant are often reluctant to talk, but, stroking the dog by their side, they begin to talk about pets they've had and childhood memories, feelings and attitudes toward their parents. And, through Mingo or Bonnie, a trusting relationship between doctor and patient begins.”
Dr. Schwartz treated a young woman whose severe anxiety prevented her from leaving her home and holding a job. Because they couldn't cope with her illness, her boyfriend had left her and her friends had abandoned her. When she was brought to Dr. Schwartz's office, he said, she was very frightened and stroked Mingo over and over.
Eventually, she adopted a puppy of her own and had him professionally trained as a support dog. She has recovered so well, she is now working, she drives and goes shopping by herself, her self-esteem and functioning have improved. She's even reestablished her relationships with her boyfriend and friends. Animals played a large part in the successful treatment of her disorder.
Teach your dog
to be your support partner
Symptoms of depression
Anxiety or anxiety disorder
American Psychiatric Association
The Healing Power of Pets, Dr. Marty Becker. Hyperion, 2002
Page updated April 1, 2010
dog can be a valuable part
of your support system
Learn how to incorporate
your dog into your recovery process with tips from Support Partners: Canine
Companions. This new program, sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company and the
Psychiatric Service Dog Society offers a brochure with information about
the benefits of dogs and easy, practical ways pet owners can immediately
work with their dogs to include them in their support network.
The Canine Companions
program is part of Support Partners, a national educational campaign co-sponsored
by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) that aims to open
the lines of communication about depression and encourages a support-team
approach to overcoming depression.
Partners for free guidebooks on including your dog as part of your support team
and other topics about depression.