Incorporating pets in mental health care?

More and more research continues to point to the important role that our pets play in our lives, as well as the role they can play in mental health treatment.  Studies have demonstrated that owning and caring for a pet is linked to reduced stress levels, improved quality of life, improved physical health, increased social interaction and reduced loneliness.

Importantly, treatment providers are taking notice, and say that recent studies mirror their professional experiences.  For example, Mark Longsjo, the program director of adult services at McLean Southeast, an inpatient mental health facility in Middleborough, Mass., described including questions about pets in risk assessments.  He noted that patients with pets often say that their animals have kept them from acting on suicidal thoughts – these patients know that their pets depend on them.  The treatment team also incorporates pets into aftercare planning, and encourages patients to create a routine around caring for their animal.

Others have incorporated Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), which has been found to be effective in several treatment settings, into their practices.

Although there is a lot of research looking at the benefits of trained therapy animals, they can be expensive and out of reach for many patients.  Therefore, many practitioners are advocating to incorporate a person’s relationship with their common every day pet in their treatment.

Its easy to see the significant value that pets can have on emotional health – for many of us, our relationships with our pets are just as important as our relationships with our human family members. 

References:

A study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition

Are pets a healthy pleasure? The influence of pets on blood pressure

Pets impact on quality of life, a case study

Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs

Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study

Pets as therapy: effects on social interaction in long-stay psychiatry

Friends and pets as companions: strategies for coping with loneliness among homeless youth

Animal-assisted therapy with chronic psychiatric inpatients: equine-assisted psychotherapy and aggressive behavior

Influence of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on the attachment representations of youth in residential care