It’s long been known that dogs can help to reduce stress levels in humans and encourage us to take more physical exercise and meet new people; dogs aren’t referred to as man’s best friend without good reason. But can a canine companion really help us if we’re mentally unwell?
Dog’s and how they tune in to our emotions:
Dogs of all shapes, sizes and breed are known for being able to pick up on the emotional state of those humans that they have formed a bond with. When we’re sad, angry or excited, our dogs will often match their moods to ours, and the fact that we know dogs can do this, makes it all the more believable that they can help us when we’re mentally unwell.
Your pet dog may come and lie close to you, jump in your lap, lick you or nudge you with their nose in response to your emotional state, and we can only assume that they’re doing so to try and help us overcome any negative feelings that we might be experiencing.
The history of dogs as therapists:
While there is no disputing the fact that dogs have been in our lives for many thousands of years, it’s only until recently that their healing powers have been recognized and used to our advantage. Florence Nightingale is noted as having remarked about the therapeutic benefits of animals back in the 1800’s, when she observed cats and dogs helping to reduce anxiety in children and adults that were hospitalized in psychiatric institutions. Later, in the 1930’s, Sigmund Freud famously begun to use his own pet dog during his psychotherapy sessions, believing that it could pick up on a patient’s level of stress and tension, and help to facilitate communication between both parties.
The science behind therapy dogs:
Numerous scientific studies have been carried out in recent decades that have demonstrated time and again, how beneficial dogs can be for those suffering from a mental illness. A patient’s blood pressure often drops when they are petting a dog, their heart rate typically slows and their breathing becomes more regular, showing clearly that the dog is helping to reduce the patient’s stress and anxiety levels.
Pets have often been used in therapy sessions commonly referred to as ‘animal-assisted therapies’, with the results again, clearly showing a significant reduction in anxiety levels for those with mood and psychotic disorders.
If you suffer from a mental illness and have a pet dog at home, then you’re doubtless already reaping the benefits, but that isn’t to say that you don’t need to attend regular sessions with a professional therapist and adhere to a program that they have designed for you. Dogs may not be the cure for mental illnesses, but there is little doubt that they can help us to feel better and may even speed up our recovery.