Can Therapy Dogs Help Me?

Updated June 18, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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If you’re an animal lover, then you probably already know how much better you feel just being around an animal, right? You might feel happier, calmer, and more relaxed just sitting there with your furry friend. Whether you’re just sitting together, petting them, playing with them, or anything else, doing so can help many people calm down after a very long and stressful day. 

Can therapy dog assistance improve those effects even more? Can you really achieve better mental health results through the presence of a therapy dog? Ahead, we’ll explain the benefits of having a therapy dog and other ways to achieve support for mental health-related challenges.

How can therapy dogs help people?

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A therapy dog can help you stay calm in stressful situations

Therapy dogs assist in a range of different situations. A therapy dog may be a dog that is at a facility, or that is brought in to you to help you through your therapy sessions, but it can also be used as a term to describe your own dog. Your therapy dog can be a great addition if you're undergoing another type of therapy such as client centered therapy. The benefits of client centered therapy combined with therapy dogs can help you with your therapy process.

For example, a dog may be brought in to help you talk about abuse that you have experienced. Holding and petting the dog may allow you to relax enough to discuss the difficult trauma you’ve endured. The dog may not have anything else to do with the therapy process other than sitting there and being there for you while you talk, but for some people that can be more than enough.

In the case of emotional support animals, they’re there to help you work through day-to-day issues. If you have PTSD, for example, and you experience triggers for that PTSD throughout your daily life, a dog may help. An emotional support animal may be able to help you stay grounded in the present and help pull you out of the symptoms that occur with your PTSD throughout the day. These dogs usually stay with you at all times so they can always be prepared to help you with whatever you may need.

In reality, therapy dogs can help anywhere, as long as you like dogs and they help you to feel calm or happy. They’re frequently used in situations where a patient may have to talk about something extremely uncomfortable or traumatic. They’re also used in situations where the patient may be struggling to open up to a therapist. It’s going to be up to you whether a dog helps you in any situation, but if you feel better just being around them, then it’s not going to hurt your ability to get help.

For children who are going through therapy and trying to cope with different traumatic situations, this type of animal therapy can be a huge benefit as well. A child may struggle to talk about something because it’s overwhelming for them. An animal that they can sit and play with may help them feel relaxed enough to open up to their therapist and others about what they’ve experienced, which can help them through the trauma that they’ve experienced as well. So, if it can help and it can’t hurt, why not give it a try?

Does using therapy dogs work?

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For some people, therapy dogs do work. The entire purpose of using dogs in therapy is because they can make you feel better when you’re upset, agitated, or anxious. Anything that enables you to calm you down (and is healthy for you) is helpful. You should do what you can to help yourself prepare for your therapy sessions so that you can get the most benefit out of them.

If you go to a therapy session and you’re not willing or able to open up to your therapist, they likely aren’t going to be able to help you because they don’t know what you’re experiencing. This makes it difficult for them to help you change your way of thinking or to change your present course to make yourself happier and healthier. If a dog can help you to feel more willing to open up, then it’s going to help out in the long run and improve your chances for success in therapy. Benefits of working with a therapy dog include:

  • Increased comfort levels
  • Increased happiness
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Reduction of stress, tension, and anxiety
  • Reduction of loneliness, sadness, and isolation
  • Improved cardiovascular functioning and blood pressure

In addition to people living with PTSD, therapy dogs can help people living with dementia, heart illnesses, anxiety, and cancer.

Therapy for myself: Will it help?

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A therapy dog can help you stay calm in stressful situations

If you’re thinking about getting therapy, then the first thing to know is that there is strong evidence (years of research and personal stories of triumph) that shows how effective therapy can be. If you’re curious about trying it, MyTherapist can help. This online service can help you get the therapy that you’re looking for without having to leave your own home (unless you want to, of course). That’s because the service itself takes place entirely online. 

These therapists are located all over the country, which means that they can help you from anywhere. All you do is log on with an internet connection, and you’re going to be ready to go. Whether you’re on that ski vacation in Colorado, on a business trip to New York, or sitting at home in North Dakota, you have the ability to text or meet virtually with your therapist. All you need to do is get online, and you’ll be able to talk and work together to overcome your situation.

As mentioned, multiple studies have confirmed the efficacy of online therapy compared to in-person counseling. A systematic review of 17 studies using online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as an intervention for treating depression yielded that participants were just as satisfied with online CBT as they were with face-to-face treatment. Additionally, the participants found online CBT to be a more cost-effective option than in-person therapy. Other literature reviews have identified online CBT as equally effective in treating panic disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and specific phobias.

Takeaway

Discussing past trauma can bring up a lot of uncomfortable and even distressing emotions. In many of these instances, having the presence of a therapy dog can be soothing and enable you to share your experiences. If you are interested in learning more about obtaining therapy dog services, or you’d like to connect with an empathetic counselor, consider reaching out to MyTherapist. You deserve to be happy and to heal, and the licensed professionals will work with you to help you achieve the life you desire, with or without the assistance of a therapy dog. 

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