Wet noises nudging you for more attention, tail wagging when they are excited to see you; these two simple signs of affection make you feel loved and like you are the most important person in the world to them. Truly you are! I know I find comfort from my Golden Retriever Willow. I am fortunate enough to be able to bring her to work with me. In some form she like my therapist during the day, one look at that precious aging face and I know I am loved and can get through the day. As I am writing this she is quietly but intently watching me, with a look of knowing I am writing about her; that and wondering if I will share my protein bar with her 😉

Pet therapy, also referred to as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), is becoming very common in counseling and doctors’ offices. While people do have pets in their home for “therapy”, dogs specifically can now be seen calming a fearful child in a dentist’s chair, visiting ill patients in hospitals as well as the elderly in nursing homes, and now even becoming part of routine counseling sessions. Many animals can be used in therapy including cats, dogs, horses, and guinea pigs. For obvious reasons, dogs are my focus here.

Some of the main benefits of pet therapy in a counseling setting are increased happiness, lessening of depression, and improving your outlook on life. A reduction in anxiety, helping children learn empathetic and nurturing skills, and improving the relationship between you and your counselor. If you have a pet of your own, there is decreased loneliness and isolation by having a companion. Loneliness and isolation or the feelings of can be the root of many depressive and anxious mental health disorders. There have been significant benefits seen in children with autism. Studies have shown autism to temporarily improve after even a short play period with a live animal (versus a toy). Children with autism that have pets are also noted to have greater social skills in comparison to the children that do not have a pet. However, careful consideration needs to be taken into account for a child who is easily agitated or has sensitivities to noise and may have great difficulty with an extremely active dog or one that tends to bark. This is where breed will have to be considered. Calm and more laid back breeds such as Golden Retrievers.

It takes a special trained dog in a counseling session. Not any “pet” can fulfill the role. The pet and its handler (owner) go through training and testing to be certified for such therapy. The counseling sessions are still administered by the counselor, and the pet and its handler are typically brought in to provide comfort and mild interaction with the patient. It is understandable however, that pet therapy is not for everyone. Some people just do not feel comfortable with animals, and may have phobias or fear and anxiety caused by them. There are others that have severe allergies, and unfortunately just cannot be around the furry friends. If you are fearful of counseling on your own and are a lover of animals, having a furry friend by your side may be the comfort you need to help you through.

Janel Weatherspoon~Office Manager