Pet Therapy: The Secret Weapons
The Secret Weapons
I know. Our “team” here at Becky Lennox Counseling is not the norm. The “team” is not what most would expect to see when going to a counseling session. This unique team consists of:
- Dexter (11-year-old golden retriever),
- Woody (9-year-old 52-pound sulcate tortoise), and
- Donald, Sheep, and Duck, three 10-week-old chicks.
“Why would you have these animals?”
Fair question. If you know me, you would more than likely say, “That just Becky” , but there’s more.
Countless times, I have observed this odd crew of “therapists” make an impact on the many individuals who meet them. They offer experiences most people have never had. Touching and feeding a huge tortoise that actually comes when you call his name. A big lovable dog who gets in your lap when he senses you are upset. Three baby chicks who have learned to trust humans and actually cuddle up to little kids.
Kids and adults of all ages face overwhelming circumstances and situations out of their control. Feelings of despair, loneness, depression, anger, loss, and confusion often cause a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness. If even for just a moment, an animal offers a little ray of light through what might seem to be a dark scary tunnel of confusion.
Humans and animals have an innate bond.
- The non-threatening, unconditional acceptance, and non-judgmental deminer the animal offers can break through barriers that a human being can’t possibly tackle. I have worked with many children who have had negative horrifying experiences with an animal and are terrified to be around them. Introducing these animals to a trauma-stricken child or adult offers a unique way for the individual to regain a sense of trust, understanding, and empowerment.
- Caring for and understanding the needs of an animal introduces individuals to a life outside of themselves. Learning about or watching them grow provides opportunities for empathy and unconditional acceptance and love. Assisting an animal in their needs teaches individuals purpose and giving back.
I have witnessed Dexter many times calm an adult when they are experiencing anger, sadness, unworthiness, or just can’t find the words to express themselves. Dexter has a sixth sense, offering a warm furry coat to pet, a big paw on a knee, or his head in a lap that seems to instantaneously change and calm a mood.
“Jake, tell your mom my parents are stupid”
Most of us know the rollarcoaster ride most teenagers experience with their emotions, development, relationships, attitudes, and life in general. I recall one 16-year-old adolescent male who absolutely did not want to be sitting in my office and chatting about his poor decisions and the boundaries his parents had recently implemented on their home.
“Lance” was pretty much forced or bribed by dad to “see a therapist” and I immediately knew he wasn’t going to talk to me much less look me in the eye. At that time, I had a paralyzed dachshund, Jake, who was sitting in a baby stroller. I greeted Lance and introduced him to Jake. Jake proceeded to plop himself down in the middle of the floor, back facing me. We sat there for a couple of minutes in silence while I purposely pretended, I was busy at my desk. I told Lance when he was “ready to talk, we would” and of course he (now laying on his back) continued his silence.
After a few minutes, he said, “Jake, tell your mom my parents are stupid”. This was the beginning of a great relationship between Jake, Lance and me. I spent hours over the next few months talking to Jake and asking Jake to “ask Lance” various questions. I must admit though when Lance’s parents would come in for our family sessions, his parents had to have thought I was nuts…
Many issues can be address with animal or pet therapy for adults as well as children:
· Improved fine and gross motor skills
· Increased focus and attention to someone other than self
· Increased self-esteem and worthiness
· Reduced anxiety, grief and isolation
· Reduced blood pressure, depression, sadness, and hopelessness
· Increased trust, empathy and teamwork
· Greater self-control
· Enhanced problem-solving skills
· Offer tactile stimulation and trust
· Improved social skills with non-traditional method
People with a variety of conditions can benefit from animal-assisted therapy, including:
· Autism spectrum disorders
· Cancer or serious illnesses
· Developmental disorders
· Psychiatric disorders
· Emotional and behavioral disorders
· Chronic pain
· Difficulties with social skills, acceptance, and fears
· Trauma recovery
· Isolation and lack of purpose
· Anger, defiance, and disobedient issues
· Friendship or acceptance difficulties
· Bullying or victim of bullying
My co-therapists may seem to be an odd mix of a group, but this same group is part of my family. They are part of who I am and what I do. They serve as part of my purpose and I am eternally grateful to be the head odd ball of the group.
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.