Recently, at The Resilience Centre, we have been running a weekly group for adults titled “A Life Worth Living”. It’s basically designed to help people who struggle with their emotions and tend to experience intense feelings which interfere with their quality of life. Amongst other things, the program includes some skill building around how to stay in the present moment and tolerate distressing emotions. I was telling my teenage daughter about the course a bit before heading out to my first group session. Her insistence that I take our dog Zoe as a possible comfort for some participants was intense. I could see how her relationship with our dog had been very significant for her in hard times. Perhaps she had a point? Perhaps having a dog like Zoe in the room might bring a useful dimension for some people?
I need to point out that not all dogs would be good for this job. Zoe just happens to be a dog who radiates CALM. She is as chilled as they get without being lazy. She’s curious, and perceptive, and she can rest in one place for a long time. I decided to take her along to the group and since then I have not looked back.
Not everyone is a dog lover so some participants have been ambivalent. Others, however, have eagerly welcomed her. Having a dog in the room has provided an ice-breaker (in varying states of nervousness) and allowed people to share their own dog stories before perhaps talking about themselves. She has provided an additional avenue for distraction or soothing when group members feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. Being able to focus on simply patting a dog and tap into the various senses that go along with that is very calming for some people. Just as sitting in nature might be for others.
Animal Assisted Therapy is reported to have a number of benefits for those with mental health challenges including:
- decreased anxiety
- increased sense of comfort and safety
- reduced loneliness
- enhanced self-esteem and confidence
- increased prosocial behaviours
- decreased behavioural problems 1.
One therapist in the US talks about using her dog in the therapy room:
“Clients find solace and calm while petting Lainey, even when they are talking about something stressful. She immediately notices when someone is emotional and makes herself present to be pet or provide a much-needed hug”. 2
I am working towards having Zoe in the room that I practice in. If you would especially like this; please express your interest at the time of booking an appointment with me. If you prefer not to have Zoe around or have some sensitivity to dogs please let reception know also.