Therapy dogs are trained and certified and serve as an integral part of the mental health treatment process. Dog therapy, or more broadly, animal-assisted therapy (AAT), is directed by a health professional and is designed to help people improve their physical, social, emotional, or cognitive function. 1, 2
Therapy dogs work with professionals and their clients, often within a traditional therapy setting, providing comfort, support and helping engage people. A therapy dog helping to encourage and facilitate social interaction for a child with autism is one example.
These specially trained therapy dogs help people with a variety of mental health conditions, including, dementia and Alzheimer’s, depression, PTSD, and autism. Therapy sessions typically include a therapist and the dog and its handler and they often work together through a series of sessions. They work in a variety of settings, including nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, private practice, and in group settings to help people deal with anxiety and stress.
Dogs can create a safe point to start conversation and their nonjudgmental, accepting nature makes them good for this therapy role. The presence of dog can be calming, and animal therapy allows the benefits of touch in therapy.
Mental health benefits of associated with the use of therapy dogs include:
increased sense of comfort and safety
enhanced self-esteem and confidence
increased prosocial behaviors
decreased behavioral problems