Kate Gehlfuss LPCC-S, CTP, Director of Counseling, Substance Use and Criminal Justice Programs for Ravenwood Health, wrote this month’s #MentalHealthMatters blog post.

The last few months have been anything but normal for the world. The emotional roller-coaster of life can really take a toll on our mental health. The current state of things has brought an immense amount of hardship and loss to some. People have experienced higher rates of depression, anxiety, stress and fear and may not have the ability to cope with these emotions. I admit that had it not been for the companionship of my dog, Kizzy, my days would have been a lot darker. If you’ve been blessed to have a pet in the home you know how much comfort they can bring! According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, in 2016, 68% of American homes had a pet. That number continues to rise.

So why am I writing about pets this month? When we feel we have little to help us through these dark days, we always have the bond with our animals. It’s no secret that humans love their pets. They post photos of them online, they buy them expensive toys, outfits and beds and at times they bring them to work. Animals have shown improvement on our physical and emotional health including:

 

  • Providing us genuine and unconditional love
  • Constant companionship, which helps alleviate loneliness
  • Reducing stress due to increased oxytocin levels when being around a pet
  • Improving mood
  • Decreasing depression and anxiety
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Improving social activities with people outside the home
    (dog parks, group dog walks)
  • Caring for someone, aside from yourself
  • Physical touch
  • Helping ground you in the moment when petting/cuddling with the animal
  • Improving structure as they rely on your schedule
  • Helping facilitate a playful atmosphere

In knowing all the benefits that animals can have on our mental health, it’s important to also know how they can help in a working environment. There are three forms of assistance animals, including service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Many people can become confused with the differences so let’s take some time to explore each of them!

Service Animals
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These dogs are trained to work for one person and can assist with tasks related to vision or physical limitations, seizure disorders, psychiatric related issues, and much more! The dog has the same rights as humans when entering public buildings. It is important to note that these animals cannot interact with the public/be a pet as they are working for their handler and cannot be interrupted.

Emotional Support Animals
These are animals that provide comfort to their specific owner however, the animal does not have special training for this task. Typically, the owner needs a letter written by their doctor or therapist indicating there is benefit for the person to have the animal with them to provide comfort. The animal may be exempt from some housing and travel regulations with the appropriate documentation.

Therapy Animals
Therapy dogs are trained to bring comfort and companionship to multiple people. These animals must pass an obedience exam and have a social and calming demeanor. They live with their handler and work together/volunteer as a team in places such as nursing homes, counseling centers, hospitals, schools, etc. The dog’s main goal is to visit with people to provide affection, comfort, and support. These animals are meant to socialize with people and are encouraged to be pet!

Ravenwood Health is excited to announce that we offer Animal Assisted Therapy! Please ask your intake clinician about our therapy dog, Kizzy!

Kate recently read Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz.