Who Needs A Therapist? I Have a Dog

The heading above refers to a car bumper sticker that I saw once, and it has some merit. As a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, I am occasionally asked to provide clients with a letter confirming that their pet is an emotional support animal. Usually, I've worked with a client long enough to know whether their pet really performs this function. I also know that there is a wealth of research that shows how the companionship provided by a pet is good for our health. In fact, the more attached you are to a pet, the greater the protective benefits may be. Most of the research has been conducted around dogs and shows that dog ownership reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and the risk of heart disease. Of course, there are also the health benefits that come from walking your dog twice a day. And simply petting a dog releases positive neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, that make us feel good. Anxiety sufferers and people who have experienced trauma (PTSD) can really benefit from having a pet. One theory is that our attachment to and interest in animals stems from the strong possibility that, in the past, human survival was partly dependent on signals from animals in the environment, indicating safety or threat. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that now, if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security, and feelings of well-being, which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible. A friend of mine has benefited so much from having a dog that he decided to help others by enrolling his latest pet, a Scotty dog, in a service animal training program. His dog is now part of the wag brigade at San Francisco International Airport, helping to make air travel less stressful. I think most of us can benefit from that.