By Kelly Graham, MSW, RSW
The use of animals to help people emotionally and mentally seems to be on the rise lately. But can they actually help? While an animal is not a replacement for medical treatment or counselling, they can help to improve your well-being… as long as you like animals.
There are 3 different types of animals that can provide support:
Service Animals – These animals are specially trained and paired with someone who needs assistance physically, mentally, or emotionally. (For example, people who are blind, have epilepsy or PTSD, etc.)
Therapy Animals – These animals have training (not as much as service animals) and are used in short-term sessions to help improve people’s well-being. They can also be used in a group setting or one-on-one.
Emotional Support Animals – These animals do not have specialized training, but are more than “just a pet” because they provide comfort to their owner when they are in distress.
How can animals help? When with an animal that you like, it releases the chemical oxytocin in the brain. This chemical generates feelings of love, trust, cooperation, optimism, calmness, and safety. This chemical can help in a variety of ways.
Some benefits include:
Animals can encourage people to become more physically active because they need to be exercised and looked after. They can also help improve social interactions by being with the person, so they are less afraid, creating a shared topic of interest for discussion, and by putting people in social situations (such as the pet store, the dog park, etc.).
Animals don’t judge us for how we are feeling or what we are going through. They are always there for us providing love and friendship. This can help comfort people, especially when they are in distress. While not everyone likes animals, and therefore they would not get these benefits or have these feelings, they can be a good option for those who love them.
To gain the benefits you don’t necessarily need a trained animal, but instead, enjoy the time you spend with them. Try to focus solely on the relationship and interaction you have with your pet. Stop thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner tomorrow night, or how much work you have. Just focus on being with them, and they can help increase your well-being, even if just a little!
Check here periodically for updates from Kelly Mental Health staff.
This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide personal support as an alternative to psychotherapy services. Please note that replies are viewable by the public, and we may take a few days to respond. If you require immediate assistance, please call us during business hours.
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