I am a dog-mom. Yes, that’s right; I am the one that overshares about my dog. Countless pictures/videos and cute stories about “OMG, you’ll never believe what Cutler did yesterday…” – followed by a ridiculously detailed account of our daily walk. My friends lovingly joke that I try to incorporate a story about my Frenchie into most conversations.
Naturally then, it’s no surprise that I incorporate my Frenchie into my work as a psychotherapist!
If you are a pet parent, I am certain you’ve been lucky enough to experience the amazing benefits animals can have.
I’d like to share with you some of the benefits animals have on our psychological well-being as well as how I incorporate this into my practice as a therapist.
- Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is currently a widely used complimentary model to traditional medical and psychological interventions.
- Research shows that dogs and cats have the ability to lower heart rate and decrease stress and anxiety.
- Caring for a pet helps create a sense of purpose, teaches responsibility and helps us express emotion such as love and compassion.
- Research shows that pets help children develop greater empathy, higher self-esteem, and increased participation in social and physical activities.
- Having a dog can promote and motivate you to lead a healthier lifestyle
As a psychotherapist, I recognize the importance of complimentary approaches to traditional psychological interventions. This has been the foundation of our approach at The Centered Life and we hold great value in being able to treat our clients from multiple dimensions. Working with my dog Cutler, has shown me how animals can elevate the therapeutic experience for both the therapist and the client.
Here is what I have learned:
- Kids may refuse to talk to you… but they will seldom refuse a Frenchie with a big tongue and warm smile. Using animals in therapy helps build rapport and make clients feel more at ease in the therapeutic setting
- As a therapist, I often (psychologically) “hold” my client’s pain in session. Having an animal to help with physical touch and comfort is a profound way to help my clients feel momentary relief.
- Sometimes, clients aren’t ready to verbalize their trauma or grief to another person. Animals allow open communication without fear of judgement or rejection.
- Dogs are extremely instinctual and perceptive creatures. As a therapist, those are very important skills to have. I often depend on Cutler to help me see things about my clients I normally would need more cues to pick up on.
I feel privileged to be able to help others health through the power of the human (and animal) connection.
PS: Don’t think I wouldn’t end without sharing a snapshot of my co-author and co-therapist, Cutler
Valerie Spiropoulos, LCPC