Let us think objectively!… After all we are a Critical Thinking Society. Does having a pet help you in any way? Is there any evidence? Isn’t this just another alternative approach to counselling?
This post addresses the evidence for this counselling practice.
Animal assisted therapy has been used in the care of patients in hospital wards, homes for the elderly and prisons. The regular contact with an animal has shown improvement of the mood of people in these circumstances. More recently some counsellors are asking their clients to bring their pet to teh counselling sessions, or if they do not hold a pet, the counsellor may bring some of his own companion animals in the session, usually a quiet dog or a friendly cat who don’t mind to be petted by unfamiliar people.
One of the most valued aspects of having animals as part of a therapeutic alliance appears to be related to their impact on altering the therapeutic environment. One of the founders of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – Alan Beck- supported the assumption that animals seemed to have the capacity to modify a person’s readiness to open up to the counsellor. In most cases, presence of an animal appears to modify the perceived environment
and make it more friendly and comfortable to incoming clients.
When the clients talk about the animal, hey offer material that can be used to work with in teh therapeutic alliance.
There are certainly many advantages in this process as the presence of an animal may become a social facilitator for spontaneous discussions with the counsellor. The dog usually helps break the ice and makes it easier to initiate casual discussion. In most cases, the topics initially begin around the animal’s presence.
A variety of researchers have looked at animals and their apparent impact on reducing stress in an environment.
There is a body of empirical evidence and controlled studies that owning a pet contributes to the reduction of cardiovascular problems and lowers blood pressure.
A study by Erika Friedman investigating pet ownership and survival rates among patients
who were hospitalised for heart attacks, myocardial obstructions of the blood supply, or severe chest pains, suggested a significant difference in life expectancy between the subjects who had a pet versus those who did not.
In the UK there are some organisations promoting animal assisted interventions such as the Society for Companion Animal Studies which run different types of programmes aimed at improving human health and welfare with the inclusion of animals. However such programmes differ from animal assisted counselling which consists if offering normal counselling techniques with an animal in the room.