The power of man’s best friend goes beyond companionship. Humans have used canines and other animals for numerous reasons throughout history. While many animals have been used to assist humans in specific activities, animals have also been used for years to help people’s physical and mental health. Perhaps the first instance of this was with the ancient Greeks who used horses to cheer up the severely ill, and later in medieval Belgium, animals were used in therapy with humans with positive results. Since then, pet therapy has become a more popular mental health treatment.

Pet Therapy at Banyan Mental Health

Our mental health facility offers a pet therapy program to help our patients overcome their struggles. Beyond mere companionship, the bond between humans and animals holds therapeutic value, particularly in mental health treatment. We provide visits with trained therapy pets who we believe can help our patients work through their problems better and give them hope. The pet’s handler will guide the interaction between humans and animals, ensuring a safe and beneficial experience for all involved. We typically partner with local therapy farms with a wide range of animals, allowing our patients to interact with different species and benefit from various forms of animal-assisted therapy. Our goal is to create a holistic treatment plan tailored to each individual's needs, and the joy and comfort that therapy pets bring play a significant role in this comprehensive approach. By integrating pet therapy into our array of services, we aim to foster an environment where patients can heal, grow, and regain a sense of hope and normalcy in their lives.

How Pet Therapy Works

Mental illness often involves chemical imbalances and debilitating symptoms like depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Pet therapy offers a promising avenue for addressing these challenges. Research demonstrates that simple acts like petting an animal can trigger chemical changes in the brain, reducing stress hormones and fostering feelings of happiness. Additionally, incorporating animals into therapy sessions provides a comfortable environment for patients to open up, enhancing the efficacy of treatment. Whether it's through direct interaction or the presence of animals during therapy, the therapeutic benefits of pets offer a complementary approach to traditional mental health treatments, fostering a pathway to improved well-being and recovery.

While you are probably familiar with therapy dogs or emotional support animals, you may not understand the depth of animal-assisted therapy and how it works. There are a variety of different pet therapy programs out there. Pets have been shown to help people with their physical and mental health, regardless of age, gender, or background.

Some of the most common mental health ailments that have benefited from pet therapy include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Addiction

A therapy cat may help a young adult struggling with depression open up about their parent’s divorce. An emotional support dog could help a veteran coping with PTSD feel safe. A therapy rabbit can give hope to a young man struggling with addiction. A therapy dog can help a suicidal woman feel needed. Pet therapy programs work because they focus on the power of the bond between human and animal in a structured therapeutic setting. It can help decrease feelings of stress and loneliness, encouraging patients to open up or be receptive to their doctor and other treatments. Patients may also become more self-aware after animal-assisted therapy. If you or a loved one is struggling with how to overcome PTSD or how to deal with depression, then pet therapy might be a good option for you.

Animal Therapy for Depression

Animal therapy offers a unique avenue for combating depression, tapping into the inherent comfort and companionship animals provide. A 2016 survey found that 74% of pet owners said their mental health has improved because of owning a pet and 75% of pet owners said that a loved one of theirs had improved mental health because of pet ownership. It seems that people are easily able to recognize the positive mental effect that animals can have on not only themselves but also those closest to them. Whether it is an alpaca or a therapy dog, animals can give people the mental boost they need.

For those struggling with depression, animals can serve as an instant mood booster, offering solace and support like a family member. While traditional depression treatments often rely on a combination of therapy and medication, animal-assisted therapy emerges as a compelling alternative, especially for individuals hesitant to engage in traditional talk therapy.

Despite initial skepticism, research underscores the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in alleviating depression symptoms. Studies reveal that interactions with animals, such as petting or engaging in structured therapy programs, lead to significant reductions in depressive symptoms. For instance, dog-assisted therapy interventions have demonstrated notable improvements in depression among institutionalized elderly individuals. Moreover, meta-analyses confirm the positive impact of animal-assisted therapy on depression, highlighting its role in fostering emotional well-being and facilitating therapeutic breakthroughs. By offering a non-conventional yet impactful approach to mental health treatment, pet therapy creates a nurturing environment where individuals can comfortably address their struggles and embark on a path toward healing and recovery.

Pet Ownership for Mental Health  

Pet therapy has been employed for many years due to the established link between pets and mental health. While pet therapy is intentionally therapeutic, it does not rely on magical animals. Beyond therapeutic settings, pets offer numerous health benefits to everyday pet owners. Research indicates that common pets such as dogs, cats, and even fish can alleviate depression, improve heart health, lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness, and enhance overall mood. This bond between pets and mental health is particularly vital for individuals grappling with poor mental health. For those with mental health conditions, companion animals play a crucial role in managing their well-being, offering essential support and stability, especially during challenging times.

Pets and animals provide comfort and companionship and significantly enhance mental health management. Discover the benefits of having a pet for individuals dealing with mental health challenges down below:

  • Companionship: You may be starving for connection and feeling lonely. Pets can be a great source of companionship when human contact is lacking. Take some time each day to cuddle or just spend time with your pet. Especially if you have a history of depression or have been to a depression treatment center, you may need to rely on your pet for support during isolation.
  • Mental Stimulation: Instead of binge-watching hour after hour of your show and doing nothing for your mental health, get some mental stimulation with your pet. If you are bored, try teaching your pet a new trick or engage in some play time. You could even craft an enrichment activity for your pet that will give you both some mental stimulation.
  • Getting Outside: Dogs, especially, provide you with a good excuse to get outside for a little bit each day. Whether that is playing fetch in the yard or going for a walk around the neighborhood, get outside with your dog or other pet if you can. There are mental benefits of getting outdoors. These activities also get you exercising and can help your physical health.
  • Stress & Anxiety Relief: Pets can help provide some relief. Spend some time petting your cat or dog. Watch your fish swimming in your fish tank. Take a moment out of your day to focus on your pet and give yourself a break from all of stressful and anxious thoughts that may be flooding your mind.
  • Sense of Purpose: While fun, pets also require a certain amount of responsibility, with some requiring more care than others. Although some pets may be easier to take care of than others, being responsible for another living thing that relies on you can give you a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose can be especially important when you feel like you do not have much else to contribute right now.

Pet therapy is not the only option out there. If you or a loved one is in need of mental health treatment, call Banyan Mental Health today at (877) 360-1639. Pet therapy is just one approach to overcoming mental health ailments and co-occurring disorders. Our doctors will be able to help create a well-rounded plan specific to you or your loved one. Let our mental health program in Boca help guide you on the road to recovery and a better life.

While pet therapy is part of a broader spectrum of treatment options, it's important to understand how it complements conventional approaches. Experts recognize that companion and therapy animals can play a vital role in mental health care by helping to reduce symptoms, alleviate stress, build resilience, enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy, and generally improve wellbeing. These animals are not meant to replace traditional therapies but are integrated into treatment plans to provide a holistic approach to healing. This integration can make traditional therapy more effective, offering patients comfort and support in a unique and profound way.