Many people are familiar with therapy dogs being used with patients in nursing homes or hospitals, but they are also sometimes used in the offices of psychologists and other mental health professionals. The underlying principle that makes canine-assisted therapy particularly beneficial for clients is that interaction with a gentle, friendly animal can bring many benefits to their overall health and comfort. Studies have shown that the mere presence of a domestic animal can reduce anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and decrease elevated heart rates.
In counseling, the presence of an animal can facilitate a trust-building bond between the counselor and client, and can relieve some of the tension and anxiety of counseling. Additionally, animals can offer nurturance through the presentation of unconditional acceptance.
Prince is a friendly Bichon Frise and Shih Tzu mix. He is soft, relatively small and hypo-allergenic. Prince often joins me in sessions to assist with therapy. He typically greets clients energetically before settling in to his place as canine assistant or going to rest in his crate, depending on client preference.
Some of the observations I have had in sessions with Prince is that he can:
- Comfort a client who is upset
- Act as a bridge to bring up difficult issues or feelings
- Bring a smile to a client’s face when they are sad or angry
- Provide an opportunity for touch when needed by a client
Prince’s involvement in therapy is the choice of the client, made at each session, or even during the course of a session. He does not come to work every day, so if you have a strong preference one way or another, please let me know.