Abstract: For many years, studies have showed that human-animal bond can provide good health, psychosocial well-being, and overcome some very serious medical conditions. The purpose of this paper is to create a better understanding of what animal-assisted therapy is and how it helps adults with mental health issues. Many of these studies have shown a decrease in stress levels and depression. A day before a group therapy session, a volunteer may prep and gather all the materials for the dog such as a dog bowl, treats, toys as well as stress measures for the clients.
People tend to show up 15 minutes before the intervention starts in order to have the dog be familiar with everyone. When someone is expected to answer a specific question, it’s important that they engage with the dog while doing this, it creates openness and allows the members to talk more about personal stories and have a more relaxed posture while petting the dog. Having an energetic therapeutic dog allows members to be positive and increase their coping skills; this also allows them to have fun/laugh in a somewhat awkward/scary environment(Perry, Rubenstein, 2012).
The facilitator records a client’s stress levels and how they’ve changed from the beginning of the session to the end. Humans have a need to interact with nature and non-human beings. Animal assisted therapy “builds a bridge” or creates an icebreaker for the clients. When animals are involved, patients can view themselves as caregivers and receiving physical contact with them gives them comfort. Animals are nonjudgemental and communicate nonverbally.
In order to teach others how to be more mindful, it makes sense to bring in animals since they already have these set skills. Mindfulness programs teach clients to be in the moment and be aware of thoughts, feelings and surrounding environments. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy(MBCT) uses mindfulness based stress reduction with concepts from cognitive behavioral therapy. In a recent study, 106 patients with depression like symptoms were treated with MBCT and the dropout rate was only 28%. This study consisted of 8 weekly group sessions each two and a half hours long.
In these sessions, patients had short, mindful meditation exercises, a body scan exercise and a raisin exercise, which consisted of collected objects from nature such as flowers and berries(Schramm, Hediger, Lang, 2015). Mindful observing, describing and participating are conducted with brushing or leading the animals. Another study involved breast cancer patients who participated in counseling programs with a therapy dog name Tallulah. In order to find out if these 8 patients benefited from AAT, a pragmatic paradigm(in depth interview) was used.
An inductive thematic approach was also used and required involvement and interpretation by the researcher. Tallulah was at the counseling sessions for most of the time and has been doing this for 3. 5 years. The goal for dog therapy is to facilitate more engaged patients and creating therapeutic alliance. The interviews took from 20-60 minutes and the first thing they asked the patient was to share their “story” of cancer and the experience of counseling, this resulted in patients having more confidence when sharing.
Once the interviews were done, the inductive analysis process was next which included the 3 types of comparative method: 1)identifying meanings by reading the transcripts line by line, 2) grouping each into a category with a 4 letter code, and 3)examining relationships and codes in relation to the research question(White, Quinn, Garland, 2015). The results showed 2 key themes when patients experience AAT: 1)an increase in positivity when counseling and 2)benefits of AAT.
The main reason why these patients went to therapy was because they had a difficult time handling their emotions revolving around their cancer experience(anger, depression, adjustment issues). Many of these patients enjoyed animal assisted therapy, they looked forward to counseling and it eased their stress. The participants liked giving as well as receiving affection from Tallulah. In a different study, there were two patients who had mood disorders while the third patient did not. The first patient, a 22 year old woman with a mood disorder used AAT and loved it.
She was able to talk to the staff normally and felt satisfied when introducing her pet. She is currently stable. The second patient, a 26 year old man with a mood disorder also used AAT. His state has been unstable and his depressed mood is severe, the only thing he looks forward to is AAT(Aoki, Iwahashi, Numajiri, 2012). In order to measure [oxy-Hb] and [deoxy-Hb] changes in the prefrontal cortex(PFC), a FOIRE 3000 was used. Detectors were placed over entire scalp and there was a total of 42 channels covering the PFC.
Two tasks were performed while using a near-infrared spectroscopy(NIRS) : 1)interaction with dog and 2) verbal fluency task. In case 1, there was a decrease in [oxy-Hb] in the right dorsolateral region during AAT but not during the verbal fluency task(VFT)(Aoki, Iwahashi, Numajiri, 2012). In case 2, there was a decrease in [oxy-Hb] near the right frontopolar region. AAT influences the body biologically and physiologically because the NIRS signal reflects oxygen metabolism in cerebral blood and changes the blood volume.
AAT also stimulates the senses(touch, sight, hearing). During this study, the PFC was activated in healthy ways. Animal assisted therapy has helped individuals with mental health in a calm, yet comforting way that allows them to open up. Many look forward to counseling now because of the use of interacting with the animals, this allows individuals to have a deeper conversation with his or her peers as well as relate to one another on a personal level. This method is beneficial and should be open to individuals in all areas of the country.