Therapy animals have been helping support people with mental health issues for hundreds of years, they can help to:

Reduce depression

Reduce anxiety

Increase self esteem

Provide a source of comfort

A brief history of the use of therapy animals in Mental Heath

Some of the first documented record of these date back to 1792 at a York Retreat. The asylum was ran by the Society of Friends who used Farm animals to “enhance the humanity of the emotionally ill” It was noted that those involved with the animals “lessened the use of drugs and restraints”

Companion animals became increasingly common in mental health institutions in the following years with evidence that the animals provided a less prison like atmosphere for the patients

Animal assisted therapy took a bit of a backseat due to developments in medicine until Boris Levinson’s work came about in 1962.  Levinson was a child psychotherapist and pioneer of Animal Assisted Therapy who took his own dog into therapy sessions with clients. Levinson’s paper entitled “The Dog as ‘CoTherapist’” (1962) gained recognition in the field of psychotherapy. Levinson advocated that with children in particular, companion animals assist ego development as well as overall healthy emotional development . The relationship between a pet and child allows for children without emotional security and affection to find that with their pet (Levinson, 1969).

Levinson also explored the role of animals in relation to patients with chronic mental health illnesses who lived in supportive care. Levinson found that after bringing dogs into the supportive care for visitation, the patients reported less depressive symptoms than the group who did not interact with the dogs (Barker & Dawson, 1998; Levinson, 1969).

There are also huge physical benefits from the used of therapy animals, The presence of an animal alone can reduce blood pressure (Pichot & Coulter, 2007). A study conducted by Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, and Messent (1983) measured the blood pressure of twenty-six children when a dog came in to their classroom. The children did not have contact with the dog but were able to see it. Friedmann and colleagues found that the children’s blood pressure decreased when the dog entered the room. The study concluded that the very presence of a dog can decrease anxiety and lower blood pressure (Fine, 2000; Friedmann et al., 1983, Pichot et al., 2007).

Further study has proven that there are both psychological and physiological benefits of the human-animal bond. Sussman (1985) found that animal assisted therapy can “decrease depression, anxiety and sympathetic nervous system arousal.

Kruger and colleagues (2004) focused their research on AAT as an intervention in the treatment of adolescents with mental disorders. The authors found a reduction of anxiety in sessions, as well as improved attendance, interactions, and behaviour. The animals used as a part of the treatment process served as a catalyst for learning, a source of comfort, an outlet for nurturance, and a role model of positive interpersonal relationships (Kruger et al., 2004).

CAL dogs provide comfort to children in who are struggling with emotions; we see huge reductions in violent outburst when our dogs are in attendance. In once intervention we saw a young person who was such a danger to themselves they were being physically restrained 3-4 times a day reduce their outbursts so significantly they needed no physical restraints on days they were working with the dog. The dog was a way in, a way to connect, a way they could communicate, to be heard, to feel safe and make emotional progress and continues to do so.

We aim to promote a world that has a greater understanding, a greater support and openness toward mental health.

For more information on mental health please visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk

The above is a brief insight in to the world of therapy animals in mental health, please feel free to comment and share your experiences.