The Power Of Pets: How Animal-Assisted Therapy Can Transform Lives

Disclaimer: The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

If you’ve ever owned a pet or been around animals, then you probably know how special they can be. From horses to dogs to fish to guinea pigs, humans choose their pets, but the pets choose their people right back. Not only can pets bring unconditional love to our lives, but they can also help us feel less alone. Life can be tough, but there’s something about having a pet next to your side that can change everything. 

One novel way animals are improving the lives of other people is by accompanying them to therapy. This approach is called animal-assisted therapy, and it can help people work through a number of concerns while also enhancing their skill set and quality of life. Here, we’ll discuss what animal-assisted therapy is and how it can support people in their unique mental health journeys. 

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy? 

Animal-assisted therapy, also known as pet therapy, is a specialized therapeutic approach that uses pets or animals to help people heal from mental health disorders and other related concerns. This could include disorders like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, as well as problems like low self-esteem, loneliness, and impulsivity. 

People engaged in animal-assisted therapy may interact with a registered therapy animal or their therapist’s pet while they’re in sessions. Connecting with an animal during therapy can make sessions more productive, as people are more likely to express their thoughts and feelings when they’re comfortable. BetterHelp offers therapy online, allowing you to bring your pet to sessions as you please. 

How Can Animal-Assisted Therapy Help People?

Some of the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy include: 

  • Reduced loneliness: While someone may not have many friends or family, a pet can still offer unconditional love and companionship, reducing feelings of loneliness and helping prevent social isolation. 
  • Improved comfort during therapy: Being with an animal in therapy can help individuals feel safer and more comfortable in sessions, allowing them to open up more quickly with their therapist. Animals can make the therapeutic space more relaxing and inviting, leading to more positive therapeutic outcomes. 
  • Fewer mental health concerns: Spending time with an animal and petting them can promote relaxation and boost feel-good chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin. This can help stave off mental disorders like anxiety and depression and alleviate symptoms of stress. 
  • Enhanced ability to cope with stress: People who have an animal at their side may find that they’re more equipped to cope with challenging, overwhelming, or stressful situations. A pet or animal can feel like a friend that has your back, boosting your self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. 
  • Improved social skills: Animals can give people the confidence they need to interact with other people, improving their communication skills over time. This can be particularly true for individuals who have social anxiety or are on the autism spectrum. One of the beauties of animals is that you can be yourself around them and don’t have to worry about being judged. This can lead to more confidence around other people. 
  • Increased empathy: Building a connection with an animal or pet can foster feelings of empathy, not just toward the animal or pet but also toward other humans. Learning how to care for a pet and consider their needs can teach people how to consider others and anticipate what they need before they even have to ask. 

Animal-assisted therapy can enhance the therapeutic process by helping people feel more secure opening up to their provider. Further, by spending time with an animal or pet, individuals can develop numerous different skills, fostering personal growth, mental resilience, and high self-esteem. This can allow them to experience positive outcomes at work, school, and in their interpersonal relationships, helping them find success regardless of their chosen path. Animals continue to demonstrate their unique ability to console and safeguard people’s well-being, highlighting the special place they hold in humans’ lives.