Crisis Center North is a non-profit in Pittsburgh, PA that helps out the victims of domestic violence as well as their loved ones. It is interesting to note that one of its team members is a sphynx cat named Thea who works in close cooperation with her handler Sydney Stephenson. For those who are curious, Thea tends to help out with counseling sessions for children between the ages of 2 and 19. These sessions happen in person. However, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Thea has started participating in virtual meetings as well. In any case, she plays an important role because traumatized children have a hard time opening up to counselors. Thea serves as a source of calm for them. Furthermore, her bond with Stephenson encourages the children to put their trust in Stephenson as well.
In this, Thea is helped out by her playful personality plus her repertoire of tricks. Something that was made possible by clicker training as well as her breed’s love of food. Speaking of which, Thea is not the sole animal who happens to be a member of the Crisis Center North team. Besides her, there are three dogs participating in the same program called Paws for Empowerment. Thea doesn’t quite help out in the same way as her canine companions, which makes sense because she is a cat while they are dogs. However, there can be no doubt about the fact that all of them are making a difference in people’s lives.
What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Thea is an excellent example of animal-assisted therapy (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342). In short, animal-assisted therapy can be defined as therapeutic intervention that includes the use of animals in some manner. Sometimes, it is meant to help people recover from some kind of problem. Other times, it is meant to help people cope with some kind of problem. Besides this, it is worth mentioning that animal-assisted therapy is often mentioned in combination with animal-assisted activities, which are much more general in nature.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, animal-assisted therapy can come in a very wide range of forms for a very wide range of people. The abovementioned example of using cats and dogs to encourage people to open up to counselors is a very well-known one. However, chances are good that interested individuals have come upon other examples, which range from keeping a pet at home to learning how to ride a horse at an equestrian school. People don’t even need to have a problem for them to benefit from animal-assisted therapy because it is well-documented that a lot of the friends and family members of people receiving animal-assisted therapy who sit in on the sessions wind up feeling better as well.
Unfortunately, while animal-assisted therapy is extremely versatile, it is by no means applicable in every single case. For example, people who are allergic to animals tend not to do so well with animal-assisted therapy for obvious reasons. Similarly, people who either fear animals or dislike animals make very poor candidates for animal-assisted therapy because the last thing that they need is to retreat even more. Besides this, it should be mentioned that safety and sanitation are always important concerns when it comes to healthcare. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are a lot of procedures in place to make sure that the animals used in animal-assisted therapy are clean, well-trained, and otherwise suitable for their intended purpose. Still, there is plenty of evidence to support the efficacy of animal-assisted therapy on the whole, thus making it a valuable tool for medical professionals.
What Are the Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy?
As mentioned earlier, animal-assisted therapy is used to help out a very wide range of people with a very wide range of issues. To name some examples, it has been used on people ranging from cancer patients and dementia sufferers to veterans with PTSD and seniors living in long-term care facilities. However, animal-assisted therapy has been claimed to offer some consistent benefits. For starters, it is supposed to redirect the recipient’s attention from something stressful to something enjoyable. There is much that has been written about the health benefits of stress mitigation. However, it is important to remember that stress mitigation is valuable in its own right. After all, being stressed out is a miserable experience. As such, being able to calm down by being redirected from stress can make for a notable jump in someone’s quality of life.
On top of this, the supporters of animal-assisted therapy say that having people form bonds with an animal can help them out with a number of important things. One would be the ability to trust other people, which might sound simple but is nonetheless foundational to maintaining functional relationships with other people. Another would be a stronger sense of self-worth, which is critical for just about everything that people do if only because it is very easy for people with low self-worth to be dragged down by their darker thoughts. Other examples include but are not limited to communication, socialization, and the stabilization of one’s emotions.
What Are the Animals Used in Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Cats and dogs are the most often-used animals in animal-assisted therapy for the simple reason that they are the most familiar animals to most people by far. However, even so, there are certain breeds that see more use than others because of certain characteristics. For example, intelligence is very useful because it makes it easier for the animal to learn whatever it is that it needs to do. Similarly, friendliness is important because the animals used in animal-assisted therapy need to be able to get along well with humans who are not necessarily in the best state of mind. On top of this, popular perception can be critical as well. After all, better-known breeds can have what are effectively established brands in the popular imagination, which can both work for these animals and work against these animals. Having said this, the animals used in animal-assisted therapy are not limited to cats and dogs. Animal-assisted therapy encompasses incredible variation. Naturally, this means that a wide range of animals can prove useful for one kind of animal-assisted therapy or another. Thanks to this, such animals include everything from birds to horses and pigs.