Pet Therapy

Nowadays there are more and more cases, when science cannot explain the positive effects of particular ways of treatment. However, the basic aim in a fight against any kind of disease is to heal a person regardless the means. This desire led the society to using such methods of treatment, which are currently known as alternative ways of healing. Among them are such practices as acupuncture, dance therapy, aromatherapy or pet therapy. On the one hand, the peculiarity of such treatment is that there is no scientific proof of the effectiveness of methods, which are used during the process. On the other hand, there are numerous situations, when people claim that exactly these curing techniques have positively affected the process of recovery. Regarding pet therapy, it is necessary to outline the growing popularity of this method in the attempt to heal both physical and mental disorders. Therefore, the pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), is not standard but effective means of treatment for people with different illnesses. The paper analyzes the stages of AAT, the functions that are performed by animals during this process, and the ways it can positively affect patients’ health.

Ways the Pet Therapy Can Assist in the Healing Process

The way AAT helps in the healing process depends on the nature of the disease, from which a person suffers. AAT is used in the cases of problems with motor skills and movement coordination, feeling anxiety and loneliness, or the lack of verbal communication. In these situations, a person mostly has depression, which creates a serious obstacle for further interaction with the world and society (Halm). As it is difficult for a depressed person to share his or her feelings with the other people, an animal becomes a real chance to feel support and warmth. The most interesting thing is that there is no special program for the healing process. The main point is to provide the process of interaction and communication between an individual and a trained animal. Among the animals which often participate in the healing procedure are horses, dolphins, cats, and dogs. The latter are especially effective in helping people to overcome psychological problems. The person, who needs AAT can call one of the centers, which provides this kind of assistance, and chose a dog for the mentioned therapy. The chosen dog can live with a patient or a person can simply spend time with this dog and take care of it in the center (Watt). The only function, which the dog performs as a healer, is that it spends time with a person and gives him or her pure love and friendship. According to the results of the AAT, interaction with an animal, such as playing with it or feeding it, has positive effect on general mood and self-esteem of a person. It creates a wide range of positive emotions, the feeling of being engaged in a process and a sense of significance. Moreover, a person forgets about the existence of own problems, as he or she feels responsibility for the well-being of an animal, and, subsequently, spends part of his or her time on taking care of the animal. Therefore, the basic strategy of AAT is to provide an individual with a friend, so that he or she devotes time to something more, than just analyzing personal problems and failures (“Canines and Childhood Cancer”).

Dynamics Facilitating the Healing Process

Dynamics, which facilitate the healing process, are different. The matter is that AAT is very individual, as it depends on each separate case and person’s character. However, there are some dynamics, which are general for all cases of animal-assisted therapy. The first is the format of communication, which suggests two possible variants: to interact with an animal in the center or to take an animal home. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. For example, if a person takes an animal home, then a considerably closer connection and attachment between a healer and a sick person is built. They share home, and somehow take care of each other. On the other hand, if a person attends a center to spend time with an animal, there are also significant advantages. First, the person needs to leave the house in order to visit the center. This aspect is important for those, who suffer from depression, because such people find it rather difficult to interact with the world, but AAT makes it unavoidable for them (Halm). Second, the fact of having a schedule of meetings with an animal creates a feeling of being busy. This feeling is essential, as one of the biggest problems for ill people is that they become isolated from the current issues of the world. It means that meanwhile all their relatives and friends continue being engaged in diverse daily tasks, such as work or different meetings, they just sit at home. However, a course of AAT is a great opportunity to be engaged in social life too.

The Scenario of the Treatment

For the most part, the AAT program is used during the whole process of a person’s treatment. Pet therapy is a way to decrease moral tension and pressure. That is why, an animal interacts with a patient during all stages of a fight against illness. American Humane Association conducted a big investigation to show the outcomes of interaction between ill patients and animals. The participants of “Canines and Childhood Cancer” said that their emotional and even physical states before and after AAT were completely different. According to the interview with children, in a process of a difficult and exhausting treatment, dogs helped the patients to forget about the fact that they were in a hospital. When they played with dogs, they felt like being at home and having no problems. Moreover, the children experienced joy and happiness (Halm). Another important fact is that in this project dogs helped not only children to overcome and decrease pressure, but also other members of the family. As cancer is a dangerous and difficult to cure disease, it is stressful for all members of a family to accept this situation in a calm way. However, AAT helped the participants to cope with it. The positive energy, warmth, friendliness and support of dogs let people feel a relief. Subsequently, the improvement of psychological background directly influenced the physiological stability. According to the scientific investigations, those, who use AAT, achieve such positive dynamics as stabilization of heartbeat and blood pressure (Watt).

The Role of a Healer

The healer’s role in the process is to grant safety and support for a person, who is being treated. As AAT is recognized as an alternative way of treatment, there is no doubt that it can be applied only as an additional way, which facilitates the whole healing process. Thus, the main target of a healer is to be with an ill person and provide him or her with psychological and emotional support. It is possible to say that dogs in a process of AAT do nothing unusual, they simply behave as ordinary pets. However, they give their love and kindness to patients, and this is their prevailing role. By means of animal-assisted therapy people have a unique chance to communicate with a creature, which accepts them in the way they are. The matter is that society cannot treat ill people as equal to other members of the community. They are always objects of an intensified attention and unpleasant empathy. Such a situation makes these people constantly remember about their problem with health, which makes them different from others. However, animals do not assess a person. They only care for his or her health. That is why, it is so easy to relax and forget about all the existing problems (“Canines and Childhood Cancer”).

The Role of the Patient in the Healing Process

The patient’s role in the process of treatment should also be taken into account. Even though pets themselves perform the main functions in the process of communication, the patient should also make attempts to create the atmosphere, which facilitates the curing process and communication. The key task of a person during such treatment is to be open to communication and to be ready to set a connection with the healer.

Goals of Pet Therapy

The main goal of the pet therapy is to help a person to deal with a complicated process of treatment and decrease the level of pressure. The matter is that any kind of illness is a stressful and challenging situation for a person, as it threatens his or her life and abilities. Subsequently, a person realizes the possibility of death, which may lead to significant psychological barriers. Under these circumstances, an individual becomes especially vulnerable to the factors of the outside world. It may seem to an ill person that the other people cannot understand all the difficulty of the personal situation or that friends and relatives are indifferent or not supportive enough (“Canines and Childhood Cancer”). This situation is rather critical, as a person deprives society of an opportunity to help psychologically. It is the high time for pets to take action about it. Pets are considered to be those creatures, which love, disregard any conditions. Therefore, animals play a role of a mediator between ill people and society, as they significantly decrease the level of stress and anxiety and help people to feel true love and affinity.

Assessment of Pet Therapy

The assessment of the animal assistant therapy as an alternative method of treatment is a controversial issue. The matter is that there is still no definite opinion about effectiveness of pet therapy as a way of improving the patient’s state. The results differ from person to person. Subsequently, it is difficult to develop the universal system of evaluation. However, the main criterion is the general influence of communication with an animal on a patient’s health and psychological power to fight against illness. In such a way, the process of assessment fully depends on the personal impressions and feelings of a patient. In most cases, those, who use animal assistant therapy, increase their ability to overcome stress and negative way of thinking. Moreover, the animals are treated as real friends and even irreplaceable members of a family. That is why, the main way to measure effectiveness and success of a pet therapy is to estimate psychological outcomes of the interaction between a healer and a patient. Physiological positive effects also occur, but they originate from emotional improvements of health (“Canines and Childhood Cancer”).

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that connection between animals and people traces its history back to the prehistoric times. It means that social development was always accompanied by harmonic coexistence with nature. Subsequently, animals are irreplaceable participants of our life, which help us to survive in the world. During the whole process of human beings’ evolution, animals managed to feel and meet the needs of people in various situations. That is how the idea to use communicative skills of animals was born. Animals managed to prove their ability to feel the state of a person and help him or her to deal with negative emotions and disturbances. Therefore, pet therapy is a good way to improve the health of a person and decrease psychological pressure.

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