Therapy Pets and Mental Disorders
Submitted by: Brandon Butler
According to the World Health Organization, one in four people on the planet will suffer from a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. In the United States, some of the worst disabilities include anxiety, addiction and depression, yet few people seek mental health treatment for a number of reasons. Therapists’ rates usually start between $75 and $150 per session, and going to a psychiatrist still tends to carry a stigma. Additionally, many people are simply too busy to find an hour or two a week to attend counseling.
If you are afflicted with a mental health condition, it’s imperative that you reach out to a professional for help. But many people also find that therapy pets can supplement traditional mental health treatment, as well as provide the companionship they need to find their way onto the path to recovery.
AAT vs. AAA
It may sound like alphabet soup, but here are two terms you need to know: AAT and AAA. What’s the difference? AAT stands for “Animal-Assisted Therapy,” while AAA is “Animal-Assisted Activities.”
AAT is a method of using animals to foster healing in patients who suffer from a range of physical and mental disorders. AAA, meanwhile, involves a professional with a dog or other animal enlivening people who are housed in places like hospitals or nursing centers. Creatures like pigs, dogs, birds, and horses can also be used in tense situations, such as an intervention, to impart on everyone a sense of comfort and calm.
Types of Therapy Pets
There are all kinds of critters used as therapy animals, like ducks, rabbits, and llamas, but the most common therapy pet is a dog. Dogs used in this capacity subdivide into service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. The first is trained to help people with disabilities move around. The second provides goodwill, devotion, and friendship. Finally, emotional support dogs primarily reinforce camaraderie with their owners, which usually imparts in them a sense of confidence they never had on their own.
An animal doesn’t have to be specially trained to create joy and spontaneity for people in the throes of mental disorders. Pets soothe us. They have been shown to treat depression. They also provide loyalty and devotion to us, which anyone who’s spent any time in the real world knows is a rare find. Pets force us to act responsibly on their behalf, which leads us to make better choices for ourselves as well. Another upside: Pets are especially beneficial for people who have addiction problems. They release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin as a natural substitute to the flood of chemicals that drugs trigger. In all, pets cultivate healthy habits and build companionship into our lives.
People often talk about how venturing outdoors imparts in them a sense of wonder and even euphoria. Going into the wilderness stimulates our mood in much the same way pets do, easing stress, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and sharpening short-term memory. A study from 2012 concluded that taking a jaunt through the woods can have a restorative effect on wanderers, and can serve as a practical means of treating depression. Whenever you can, find a way to not only get outside, but bring your four-legged friend with you for an outdoor adventure that will not only be fun for both of you, but also give you physical and mental health boosts.
Unfortunately, mental health disorders are common. If you’re struggling with an emotional wellness condition, it’s important to reach out to a professional who can help you establish a treatment plan that will work for you. It also may be helpful to adopt a pet. They are scientifically-proven health boosters, and you’ll be able to enjoy its companionship for years to come.
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