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Animal Assisted Therapy

 Have you ever found it difficult to translate exactly how you are feeling or thinking into words, leaving you feeling invalidated or misunderstood? Or do you sometimes find it hard to fully open up and tap into your feelings or thoughts? We can help with that.

 

Katy and Bear are a human and dog team, who create a safe space for clients to embrace and sit with their feelings to create change and growth. This partnership allows clients to feel supported and can help clients feel more comfortable walking through vulnerability since they are not doing it alone.

What is animal assisted therapy?

Animal Assisted therapy is a type of counseling where a mental health professional works in partnership with a trained therapy animal to help clients reach their clinical goals. This animal is not a tool, but acts as a helpful guide. The purpose of this addition is to strengthen and compliment the benefits of traditional therapy. This work happens when the therapy animal is involved in therapeutic interventions initiated by the therapist. This can look like the client teaching the therapy animal a skill which builds client confidence, or the therapy animal providing comfort when the client has shared something vulnerable, which promotes feelings of trust in others and also in oneself.

 

This type of counseling taps into a concept called the human-animal bond, which proposes that people have a desire to interact and relate to animals, and through this shared vulnerability and openness between animal and human, we form a unique bond. This powerful bond acts as a lens through which we can experience and see ourselves more clearly and on a deeper level. This bond is also a form of support that can bring about a state of calm and help us feel seen. Through this type of counseling, clients can experince feelings of stress, depression, worry, intrusive thoughts, trauma, etc., while also experiencing a greater sense of comfort, control, and validation through the support and presence of the therapy dog. 

Meet Bear

11 year old Lab and Animal Assisted Therapy dog

I received specialized training in animal assisted therapy with mom and have been working with her for years in schools, residential treatment centers and in/outpatient facilities.

 

I love going to the office. I feel loved and needed when people are brave and open up in session, then find calmness in petting my tummy and ears. It is interesting to see how clients can show so many different emotions in session, yet we can always find a way to feel connected. Change is powerful and sometimes clients are very expressive with their feelings and thoughts, which has an affect on me. This is probably my favorite part of therapy, when my mom helps communicate my reactions to clients in session and we use that to help them understand themself. We talk about the effect that their emotions have on their body language, the power behind their words/actions, and most importantly how to regulate those feelings/thoughts.

 

When you see me outside of the office, I may be enjoying a pup cup, crunching some carrots, or snacking on some goldfish. I enjoy belly rubs and look forward to long drives in the car.

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Benefits to Animal Assited Therapy

Having an extra set of hands or paws, can have a significant affect on how a client experiences a therapy session and can influence the content of what is expressed in a session. The addition of a therapy animal can greatly aid clients in the processing of their emotions and thoughts. 

01

Decrease in stress and anxiety symptoms

02

Practice social skills: communication and emotion identification

  • Teaches clients how to regulate their emotions

  • Touch can help reduce feelings of sadness, stress, and anxiety in adults and children

  • Touch can trigger the release of endorphins, which can help combat stress hormones and promote feelings of relaxation, and increase the release of serotonin and regulate dopamine, which can improve memory and learning, having an antidepressant effect on the human body

  • Helps facilitate lowered heart rate that can lead to greater feelings of control-“Touching, stroking, and holding have been shown to reduce heart rate in humans in a number of studies.” 

  • Formation and practice of new coping skills and increased use of these tools- patterned, repetitive movements assist in building new (and healthier) neural pathways ​

  • Teaches children and adults how to read other people's and their own body language and social cues, along with how to respond accordingly

  • Practice building relationships nonverbally and learning to recognize nonverbal communication​

  • Experience a positive peer relationship

  • Practice empathy, feeling what others are experiencing

  • Practice relationship building skills

03

04

Grounding Technique and practice

Greater self esteem and acceptance of oneself

  • Dogs can serve as a grounding presence in the therapy session, which can facilitate feelings of calm, safety, and control, which can lead to a greater willingness and comfortability to process thoughts and feelings, and decreased feelings of avoidance, fear, and invalidation

  • This type of therapy especially helps clients who experience dissociative or hyper-arousal by assisting with grounding skills practice

  • Increase in confidence and acceptance of oneself - dogs naturally have ​unconditional positive regard, so when acceptance is a felt by the therapy dog, we are more likely to believe that other people will accept us too

  • Increased willingness to be vulnerable and ability to trust others with reducing the presence of an intimacy barrier and feelings of fear around opening up emotionally​

  • Successes with interacting with the therapy dog can lead to a greater belief in growth, change, learning, and can help us see that feeling stuck is temporary

  • Increase in feelings of safety in relationships 

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling an emptiness we didn’t ever know we had.”

– Thom Jones

Still have some questions or not ready to schedule a session yet? Click here to schedule a free 15 minute consultation.

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