Exploring the benefits of pet therapy is fascinating. Therapy pets are used in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons and counseling offices. Studies show that the presence of a dog decreases anxiety, lowers blood pressure and increases life expectancy.
People often come to counseling because they believe that they are not being heard. Some people have all but given up trying to communicate their feelings. They have stuffed their emotions internally, causing a myriad of negative symptoms ranging from depression to rage to physical illnesses. The benefit of having a therapy dog is to provide social stimulation and physical contact, which has been shown to thereby boost moral, decrease depression and improve relationships.
Gizmo, my canine companion, is a 6-pound Pomeranian. He is a bundle of energy that struts out to the waiting room to greet my clients. His presence brings a smile to everyone’s face and creates an atmosphere of trust thereby creating a safe place for my clients to feel comfortable enough to disclose their feelings. Maybe it is because Gizmo’s presence makes therapy seem less intimidating, or maybe it’s because people believe that a counselor with a dog must mean she is compassionate.
Adolescents who come in to my office who are adamant that they do not want to talk to a counselor often find their voices when they scoop up Gizmo and gently place him in their laps. Individuals, who feel that they are drowning in the depths of sorrow, visibly relax by stroking Gizmo. Couples, who come in arguing, appear to calm down when they put Gizmo on the couch between them.
Gizmo’s presence appears to encourage people to step outside of themselves and to observe what is going on around them instead of just what is going on inside of them.
Dogs exhibit a sixth sense in therapy and are much more intuitive than humans. Gizmo seems to understand when he needs to comfort clients and when he needs to leave them alone. I find myself watching how Gizmo behaves. Is he avoiding them? If so, do they have a wall that prevents them from opening up? If Gizmo is overly affectionate, I wonder, are they grieving? Are they depressed? What are they not telling me? Many questions are brought to the surface simply because of Gizmo.
As a team, Gizmo and I offer a safe place for clients to uncover who they are. They don’t have to be fearful or anxious. They now have a place where they will not be judged. They are able to learn that true acceptance is unconditional. Quite frankly, once clients embrace the fact that they are lovable, then all things are possible.
Dr. Kristina Welker is a doctor of psychology, a licensed therapist, and a certified life coach. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 480.893.6767. For more information, visit DrKristinaWelker.com.