Therapy and mental disorders. The role of animals in therapy – Zdrowie Wprost

A Philadelphia Children’s Hospital patient ( who practices therapeutic dog visits in the area says of contact with a therapeutic dog: “On the one hand, you may feel terrible, but the dog will appear and on the other hand You will begin to feel happy. Then happiness will prevail over sorrow. ”

At the facility, Cyrus, Meatloaf and Cooper help young sick young people recover.

“We don’t have any pets in our homes, so it’s unusual for us to be part of this program,” said the mother of the child being treated at the hospital.

One of the doctors emphasizes that caring for patients is much more than giving them medicine – it is necessary to take care of their well-being – physical, mental and spiritual. According to the expert, therapeutic dogs help a lot in this work.

“If they cover a patient’s day for only 15 minutes, they will spend the rest of the day better,” he says.

Zootherapy, also known as animal therapy, became known in the 1960s after psychiatrist Boris M. Levinson discovered that a dog helped communicate with a patient.

Although the subject is still poorly analyzed in serious scientific research, more and more evidence suggests that specially trained animals can help people with various problems recover. In addition to dogs, humans are supported by horses, cats, donkeys, and even dolphins.

The human psyche loves animals

Analyzing the literature with research descriptions, experts at the University of Silesia Medical School in Katowice claim that animals can be used in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia or dementia.

According to researchers, they arouse the interest of patients and stimulate their sensory functions. They can distract from the disease and their activity is simple and predictable, so people with different types of problems feel comfortable.

At the same time, they create an atmosphere of relaxation and support social behavior. They help to reduce anxiety, loneliness and improve mood, increase self-confidence, self-esteem and physical condition. In patients, blood pressure decreases, lipid profile improves, and the concentration of stress-related hormones decreases. The effect on animals lasts a long time after the end of therapy. According to Katowice scientists, animals are “perfect for the healing process of people with mental disorders.” For example, a group of dogs at Purdue University Veterinary College have shown that they can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). First, the researchers found that contact with a specially trained dog reduced the clinical symptoms of the disease and improved quality of life. However, additional tests have shown that the dog can help regulate the production of the stress hormone orally, known as cortisol.

More power, better quality of life and social connections

After analyzing studies described in the literature, experts at the University of Ioannina in Greece found that horseback riding and hippotherapy clearly helped children and adults with various neuromotor disorders, such as those suffering from cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or stroke. Unfortunately, the research is not extensive or extensive, but the available results show that motor function, strength, balance, posture, gait, muscle symmetry, pelvic mobility, as well as social relationships and overall quality of life improve.

In turn, researchers from the University of Basel conducted a study of the effect of animal therapy on the condition of 19 patients with brain damage. Such people, inter alia, understand and express emotions, thereby problems in communication and social contacts. The scientists provided the volunteers with therapy in the presence of various animals – guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep and even pigs. During such sessions, patients became more socially active than during traditional therapy. Positive emotions appeared twice as often and increased motivation to attend classes.

“The results show that animal therapy can have a positive effect on the social behavior of patients with brain injuries,” said Dr. Karin Hediger, who led the study. – Animals can be an important partner in therapy because they encourage patients to take care of them. Second, they provide an incentive to actively participate in therapeutic activities, the researcher adds, believing that such activities could be a promising addition to traditional methods.

Sick children have fun with their parents

Apparently, animals can also help in the treatment of cancer, improving the patient’s condition. American Humane conducted a 7-year study (Study of Dogs and Childhood Cancer) to study the impact of therapeutic support on dogs on the condition of children being treated for cancer and their parents. The study involved 106 patients aged 3-17 years old who had just been diagnosed with cancer and had begun receiving chemotherapy. Dogs visited more than half of them for 20 minutes a day for 4 months. Others benefited only from standard assistance. Although the overall levels of stress and anxiety were found to be similar in both groups, the intensity of disease-related anxiety in children exposed to dogs remained stable and increased in the control group. In addition, children who used dog assistance had better learning outcomes.

– The Canines and Childhood Cancer Study is designed to assess the therapeutic effects of dogs on children with severe disease. J. Michael McFarland of Zoetis, who funded the study, says the results give us an important idea of ​​the strength of the human-zoo and will be the basis for future research in this area.

Importantly, the dogs were found to be doing well during the program. The researchers tested the concentration of stress-related cortisol in saliva. The results did not in any way indicate that the animals had any unpleasant experiences or suffered in any way.

Warning! Animal therapy is poorly regulated

However, it is necessary to pay attention to possible misunderstandings. The Polish Association of Zoo Therapists and Guides of Working Animals emphasizes that in Poland the relevant rules governing the treatment of specific diseases or ensuring the proper preparation and treatment of animals are often not followed. Sometimes animation, education and fun with animals is called zootherapy, but they are not the same. Wrong lessons can even be harmful.

Zootherapy is regulated by law. It must have inter alia, appropriate therapeutic method, technique, work regimens and other specific components. It should refer to a certain therapeutic trend – for example, physiotherapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy. Animals need to be raised properly. According to PZZiPZP, no one in Poland, for example, has applied for the consent or so-called consent of the Chief Veterinary Officer for the selection and preparation of animals for zootherapy. animal performances, which are often offered, but are not actually zootherapy. However, the association recommends certain places – more information can be found on the website (

Marek Matacz for

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