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Animal-assisted therapy, also referred to as pet therapy, uses dogs and other animals, including horses, to help young people as they recover from physical and mental health conditions. Psychology Today further explains that animal-assisted therapy “is used to enhance and compliment the benefits of traditional therapy.” A professor at Western Carolina University, Psychologist Harold Herzog, is an expert in the human-animal connection, and has spent over three decades investigating the complex psychology of human interactions with other species, and established a direct connection between interacting with animals and enjoying positive health benefits. Animal-assisted therapy is rooted in the Biophilia Hypothesis, which is the “idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.” Pet therapy for children facilitates a human-animal bond that delivers an array of scientifically documented benefits, some of which include:

  • Improves mood: Data presented by the San Francisco non-profit Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) has revealed that bonding with animals prompts the body to release certain hormones (e.g., serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin) that generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response, which minimizes the symptoms of depression and sadness. Additionally, pet interaction can help to release endorphins, producing a calming effect and improving one’s overall psychological state.
  • Increases self-esteem: A literature review exploring the efficacy of animal facilitated counseling found that pet therapy “allows children an outlet for the loving part of themselves and helps them control and regulate their own behavior while developing empathy toward other living creatures. Through successes with the animal, many children can increase their self-esteem and thereby have more confidence when approaching new tasks.”
  • Enhances traditional treatment protocols: A study published in 2019 found that the use of trained dogs helped to boost the effectiveness of therapy in adolescent children. 

Animal-assisted therapy is common in many children’s hospitals as it is known to encourage children to improve interactions with family and staff, take their medication more easily, calm nerves during or prior to painful or frightening procedures, etc. Pet therapy is beneficial for child mental health as interacting with animals strengthens adolescent emotional, cognitive, and social functioning.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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