People in need of support often rely on trusted friends and family. Some may turn to professionals for advice. Still others may snuggle a pet to help ease work pressures, social anxiety, or other types of stress. Learn more about different types of animal therapy and the benefits of seeking comfort from creatures.
Research from the last few decades has shown that animals have a calming effect on their human counterparts. The interaction helps lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally, being around animals helps people feel happier and less lonely. And, let’s face it, animals are adorable and know how to make us smile.
This strong bond makes a solid case for animal assisted therapy, and the requirements for each type of support animal are slightly different. Whether it’s comfort and companionship or service and security, people rely on four-legged friends for all kinds of assistance and recovery. Being responsible for the care of another living creature also gives people a sense of purpose. This healthy motivation helps to put events into perspective, fixes focus on meaningful things, and allows for a more enjoyable life.
An emotional support animal (ESA) provides companionship for those struggling with a wide variety of conditions, from everyday stress and anxiety to the more acute symptoms of psychological trauma. Obstacles such as anxiety, depression, chronic stress, PTSD, or a learning disability are common qualifications for an ESA.
Rather than prescribe medications, some doctors may suggest an ESA to help decrease anxiety or to comfort patients with an emotional disorder. ESAs do not require special training or certification, but the owner’s impairment should be significant enough that it’s verified by a mental health professional.
ESAs have been particularly helpful during this past year of quarantine. When circumstances and routines became unbalanced, ESAs helped patients restore a sense of uniformity and feel more stable and confident in their everyday lives.
Therapy animals are similar but different from ESAs. Most commonly dogs, therapy animals are trained to establish positive and friendly interactions with humans and other animals in a variety of settings and under varying conditions.
Therapy animals go through extensive preparation to ensure that they have the temperament and discipline to assist those in need. Once certified, a therapy animal can be used to provide comfort and affection to people in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation facilities, mental health clinics, and disaster-affected areas. These animals are gentle and loving and enjoy human contact. Through that contact, therapy animals provide effective healing and restorative assistance.
A service animal is a working animal, trained to perform specific duties to aid someone with a disability. In 2010, the Department of Justice amended its regulations and definitions. As of March 2011, only dogs are considered service animals, though they can be any size or breed.
Some of the duties a service dog might perform include guiding a person who is blind, pulling a wheelchair, or alerting a person who is hard of hearing or someone who is diabetic. They may retrieve items for someone with limited mobility, protect someone having a seizure, or calm a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack. These dogs are taught to provide help related to a specific need.
Service dogs also provide benefits beyond the physical. Their alertness and constant care provide a sense of security and relief in knowing that someone is always there to help while also providing lasting companionship.
Those who feel limited by their disabilities can regain confidence and independence, as having a service dog helps eliminate the need to continually rely on others. And with that, people begin to realize they can do more things on their own, which decreases worry and improves determination.
While the cost of training a service dog can be expensive, the benefits of having round-the-clock physical and emotional support are worth the effort. Furthermore, registering a service dog is not required by law but doing so is easy and helps ensure your rights are honored.
In its balanced approach to mental health, The Calli Institute offers animal-assisted therapy. We have an equine therapist on staff as well as a team of canine companions – Walter, Calli, and Moe – who are trained to provide emotional support and a sense of calm.
If you would like to learn more about seeking comfort from creatures, we encourage you to reach out. Our team of professionals is here to answer all your animal therapy and mental health questions.