08 Nov The Dog Blog: Therapy Dogs
In my practice, I use my two therapy dogs as emotional support animals with clients. I have two working dogs, Oscar and Olive, that are both lab mixes. Olive is a healthy 80 lbs and Oscar is a tiny dachshund-lab mix. They love coming with me to work to comfort and help my clients!
There are many reasons I subscribe to the idea of dogs in the therapy room. When new clients first reach out, they tend to be anxious. They know they are meeting someone new for the first time and will have to share their whole life story, which is usually quite nerve-wracking! I usually encourage people to breathe deeply and tell their story more slowly (we can re-traumatize ourselves by retelling tales of trauma). For fellow dog-lovers, having emotional support animals in the room can make them comfortable in a new situation, and can also help new patients stay mentally present during our initial appointment instead of slipping into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
One of the benefits of therapy dogs is that they will often come and comfort clients, bringing a smile to their faces. Oscar likes to sit on people’s laps, while Olive brings a toy and begs to be petted (typical lab style). My therapy dogs can sense peoples’ emotions – especially when they’re feeling sad or anxious. Olive and Oscar want to come help them in the way they know best, by encouraging people to pet them, sitting on their lap, or leaning in for a hug.
Dog-loving clients are comforted by these small displays of affection, and it helps them to smile and relax. Without realizing it, clients will self-regulate with the nervous system of the dog. The psychology behind self-regulation is that as we process trauma in therapy, we need to “borrow” the grounded nervous system of someone else – a therapist and / or emotional support animal – which allows clients to ground and reset their energy, shift their feelings and mood, and calm their nerves.
My therapy dogs bring comfort and smiles to my clients, so much so that sometimes clients are more happy to see Olive and Oscar than me! They make the mood lighter with their humorous antics.
If you’re looking for a counselor to become the best version of yourself, my therapy dogs and I would love to help. Please use the Contact page on my website to reach out about your initial visit or to schedule a free fifteen-minute consultation.
*Note: Because my therapy dogs are integral to my practice, I may not be your best match for a new therapist if you don’t like dogs. However, I’d be happy to refer you to dog-less therapists in the same area. If you are interested in getting an emotional support animal, you need to be an ongoing counseling client of mine. Depending on your current situation, needs, and diagnosis, I may write you an emotional support dog letter if I feel like it is called for ($125 per letter).