Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling

We are a nation of animal lovers and the relationships we have with our animals provide us, and our families with endless benefits, having a positive impact on our physical, as well as our mental health. In this blog I specifically focus on the benefits that a therapy dog can bring into a counselling session.

As some may know, starting therapy can be a huge step. It is often full of many unknowns, and the thought of opening up and potentially showing any kind of vulnerability can be anxiety provoking and challenging for many clients. However, having a dog in the therapy room can immediately reduce some of this anxiety, how could you possibly not enjoy being greeted with a waggy tail and a cold wet nose?! In that moment the dog can reduce the initial intensity, it can take the focus off the client, and the dogs welcoming presence can create a sense of belonging and acceptance. Clients will often talk about their own dog, or dogs they have owned in the past, which can again help the client to settle into their session, creating a bridge between client and counsellor. The dog brings something warm, familiar and safe for them, therefore helping them to relax.

Often in therapy, and in order to make the best of it, we need to talk about difficult feelings and emotions, and this can often be met with resistance. Opening up, owning and ‘feeling feelings’ and making ourselves vulnerable is often far from easy, especially for clients who have experienced trauma, but it’s amazing how much a furry co therapist can help with this – dogs really are completely non-judgemental, they really don’t mind who we are, what we’ve done or what we look like, we are accepted just the way we are! Carl Rogers (who founded Person centre therapy) talks about the core conditions that he believed were required for effective therapy to take place, these are: unconditional positive regard (acceptance and support), empathy (understanding feelings of another person) and congruence (being sincere and genuine). A dog will naturally provide these core conditions without even picking up a counselling book, I certainly think we can learn a lot from our dogs!

Studies have shown that stroking and being around a dog can reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Stoking a dog reduces the level of cortisol (stress hormone) and increases the levels of oxytocin (feel good hormone). We can therefore see that the positive impact of having a dog around is not just based on feelings, but physical factors too!

The above are only just some of the reasons why a dog can make a wonderful co-therapist, if you would like more information or feel working in this way would work for you, please do get in touch.

Animals really do play a huge part in enriching our lives, as I hope we do theirs!