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Animal-Assisted Therapy

"Animals are the bridge between us and the beauty of all that is natural. They show us what’s missing in our lives and how to love ourselves more completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are and to the purpose of why we’re here".

-Trisha McCagh

In India, the culture of sharing and caring is prevalent. The curiosity about what is happening in households around us and of the ones we know. We love listening to stories. So when we come across a family owning a pet, we find ourselves curious to know their story. Here is the story that I usually hear from the ones I know, presently having a pet. Parents initially don’t like the idea, but they give in to their kids. Eventually, the pets become their favourite member of the family!

Today we see many parents bringing a pet home as a companion to their kids, though it is not yet widespread. Suppose we study deeply because of the positive effects that this experience has at multiple levels of an individual, in that case,

So what is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-oriented approach that involves spending time with the animal or taking care of it. This approach aims to work on multiple aspects of an individual-physical, emotional and educational. It is an alternative therapy that is practised along with traditional therapy to help the patient recover. There is a different story to how this therapy evolved. Child Psychologist DR Boris Levinson published his study The dog as a ’Co-therapist’ in 1962. It was originally used in psychotherapy.

So be it adoption or going for clinical therapy, what is that common experience shared between the both?

Let us look at a few experiences at different levels.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

  1. PHYSICAL aspect: Anyone who has a pet at home will agree that one has to always be on one’s toes to become a companion to them. The physical energy that they have, one has to eventually learn to complement that energy. Having a pet in itself can lead to the process of a healthy body. Because when we do any physical activity with a sense of happiness, there is a positive effect on the body and mind. Suppose physical activity is done with a sense of disagreement. In that case, the desired result is not seen and can adversely affect the body and, eventually, the mind. A simple walk along with a dog, which dogs also enjoy, is beneficial. We have heard multiple times about the age-old benefits of walking. So, it is not always about doing hardcore physical activity along with our pet/ in therapy. Also, It has been found that similar hormones are released to those released after one has chocolate.

  2. EMOTIONAL aspect: Today, it is more about companionship, tracing back to how social groups were formed, predominantly for security and succession. As social beings, each one of us searches for companionship and love. And it is not found only in individuals of the same age, fields, etc. We can form a companionship with anyone, be it younger than us or elder to us and often with a different species altogether. Love can be shared with all. And it has been found that other species also feel much deeper like we do. So in therapy, it reduces loneliness largely and provides comfort. It helps in releasing hormones that elevate moods, such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. Eventually, it acts as a catalyst in reducing the patient’s resistance in interacting with the therapist.

  3. EDUCATIONAL aspect

It is said that everything around us has something to teach us if we can look at it. When it comes to animals and the interaction with them, many characteristics can help an individual grow. There is also an element of natural learning, where one has to practically interact with them and learn. While interacting with an animal, we learn a different kind of communication skill based on observation. Every breed of animal, say, has certain common characteristics among them. So certain knowledge is laid out on how to interact. But yet, there are differences among them within a breed, just like what is seen in human beings. So observation becomes very important to form a companionship with a particular animal which is a beautiful process in its way. It helps in mental stimulation and brings about certain truths to be experienced later in relationships with our human friends. Also, animals are generally very curious about the world. It’s evident when you bring them a new toy or maybe even something for yourself. They are more likely to inspect everything right from the cardboard box to the items inside. Observing their play and learn about the most mundane things might also help us return to our natural state.

Apart from the knowledge that we gain through our senses, an experience beyond is experienced. That is what these creatures teach us and help us through in our journeys.

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