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8 Benefits of animal-assisted therapy in mental health

It’s interesting to know that the top two common mental health disorders that plague the human race are depression and anxiety. 

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According to World Health Organization statistics on mental health, over 301 million people worldwide are suffering from anxiety including 58 million children; while over 280 million people are battling depression including 23 million children. These numbers keep rising.

These statistics show that these mental health issues are not gender specific, neither are they any respecter of age and race.

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The medieval age was a lot more ignorant of this fact due to a lack of knowledge and substantial evidence. People went through mental illness without treatment or therapy.

However, our way of life has improved greatly, and science has advanced in its fight for mental health treatment through various types of therapy. 

One such is animal therapy for mental health treatment. This type of therapy has gained relevance and become fully embraced worldwide because of its effectiveness.

To be sure that I carry everyone along, I’ll shed more light on what animal therapy is and how it is beneficial for those battling anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. So, take a comfortable position let’s get down to brass tacks.

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What is animal therapy?

It is possible to hear some people call it pet therapy, but they are still correct.

Animal therapy is the introduction and use of animals to help mental health patients cope or recover from their disorders. These animals could come in different types and species according to the animal’s therapy capability and the patient’s condition.

In most cases, and under the guided leadership of the minders or therapists, these animals can perform specific tasks or run errands for the patients.

Patients can also own these animals after they’re allowed to know each other and understand themselves.

How does animal therapy for mental health work?

Due to the mental and emotional stress associated with mental health disorders, animals are brought and made to come in contact with these patients. With regular interaction, the animals and patients form a bond.

First, these animals visit with their minders or therapists who are vastly knowledgeable in human-animal relationships. They are allowed to mix and interact with the patients.

These interactions include petting, caring, or playing with the animals. 

When this happens, it forms a bond that begins to provide beneficial effects and even security for the patients.

When humans interact with animals for as little as 15 minutes, the brain releases neurotransmitters that influence good mood. This in turn, helps patients respond more to other forms of treatments.

Back in the 1870s, doctors discovered the use of animals for helping patients with neurological disorders. A French surgeon found that his patients improved significantly in their motor balance and control after riding horses. It also helped them not to fall back into depression as regularly as before.

This was how the human-animal bond was coined. A team of scientists from a reputable school in the U.S.A. also discovered that human-to-animal contact reduces stress, depression, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate.

What kind of animals are used for therapy?

According to research carried out by the National Library of Medicine, it was confirmed that dogs are beneficial when it comes to animal therapy for anxiety or depression. This study helped eliminate the doubts and concerns surrounding using animal therapy for mental health.

However, dogs are not the only animals in use. Different types of animals prove efficient for therapy yet, few are more popular than others.

They include:

  1. Birds
  2. Cats
  3. Dogs
  4. Horses
  5. Rabbits

Clinics or organizations that offer animal therapy for depression or anxiety services prefer the use of dogs and cats more than other animals. The rest of the animals become useful in other types of animal-assisted therapies.

Other types of animals used in animal-assisted therapy for mental health include:

  1. Dolphins
  2. Fish
  3. Guinea Pigs

Benefits of using animal-assisted therapy in mental health

The benefits associated with the animals’ roles in mental health therapy and the journey to healing have been noteworthy.

Patients have shown significant improvement in their mental health and general wellness. Some of the benefits that were quite visible include:

Improvement in blood pressure

Petting animals is a part of animal-assisted therapy. Patients with high blood pressure and heart disorders show significant improvement within a short period by petting animals and gaining from the comfort that comes with such activity.

Drastic reduction in stress

One of the top benefits of animal-assisted therapy in mental health is the reduction of stress levels. Cuddly pets like dogs or cats have calming effects on patients when cuddled up with them. This calmness helps the brain to release hormones that take down stress levels.

Positive changes in the patient’s vital signs

Patients experience less need for their medications as the symptoms of their diseases reduce. The immune system picks up, and their vital signs become more balanced and healthy.

Pain reduction

Patients in pain experience relief after their sessions with pet-assisted therapy. Their threshold for pain increases because the brain helps to release the oxytocin hormone.

Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety

Interaction with animals helps people with depression and anxiety by making the brain release the feel-good hormones. Pet therapy like caring for and stroking these animals helps to alleviate the feelings of loneliness and sadness.

More appetite for food

When patients are free from stress and begin to feel comfortable, their appetite increases and they begin to eat and feel better.

Improved self-esteem

Patients are encouraged to care for animals and feed them. These activities help to improve patients’ self-esteem when they are rewarded with loyalty and affection from their pets.

Increased interest in physical activities

Animal-assisted therapy helps patients to develop an interest in physical activities. It begins by opting to take their therapy dog for a brief walk which later becomes a daily activity they look forward to.

Others include showing interest in riding a horse which helps them develop their fine motor skills. With an improvement in the skills, patients begin to join in other activities.

benefits of animal-assisted therapy in mental health
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

My final thought on the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in mental health

These days, millions of people around the world turn to animals for comfort and companionship. However, some school of thought argues that there are risks associated with this form of therapy such as attack or germs. 

You can strike off these concerns by ensuring these animals are well-trained and visit the vets frequently.

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