I was reading an article in The New York Times the other day about cats as therapists. Not cats with clipboards asking about our relationships with our mothers you understand, but rather about the therapeutic effect animals can have in helping to heal humans. The article is below, but is summed up by cancer survivor Kate Benjamin
“The cats are just such a great reminder of living in the moment,” Kate Benjamin
I love my cats. They are a huge part of my life and I cannot imagine our home without them. They provide me with free daily therapy and I frequently turn to them when things are getting a little out of control and I need some perspective.
Coming home from a stressful day and spending time with my cats is hugely beneficial and and has such a calming effect. Stroking a purring cat is a great antidote for anxious moments and there have been many times when I have abandoned work for half an hour, to have a cuddle with one of my cats. I notice that my breathing and heart rate slows. I start to feel more relaxed and am able to gain some perspective on the issue that’s bothering me. In addition, my serotonin levels will increase and my mood with gradually lift. My blood pressure will lower, as will my sense of not being in control and powerless, which remains the root of all my anxieties.
The calmness of my cats is catching and their unconditional support is never ending. Of course, it’s not only cats; dogs, horses, guinea pigs and even rats are all used as therapy animals working with humans who have dementia, autism, and ADHD. The list is ever growing. Young people in particular, who may have difficulty in articulating their feelings, often benefit from having an animal to relate to.
As a counsellor, I worked for some months with a teenage girl who was suffering from a number of anxiety disorders. Lili, my brown Burmese, who was not usually allowed into the therapy room while I was working, insisted on trying to enter whenever I was in session with this young woman. Finally, I gave up and let her in and she immediately jumped onto Rebecca’s (not her real name) lap and stayed there for the whole session. Every session thereafter was conducted the same way. Rebecca’s issues were very deep and entrenched and I am not suggesting that Lili cured her, but having the cat there seemed to relax Rebecca. It enabled her articulate herself much easier and provided her with calmness and a strengthened ability to have the courage to speak.
I have worked with many clients over the years who have been able to experience substantial steps towards recovery following interaction with a pet. Having discussed this in session, animals seem to help in the following ways:
- The experience of rescuing an animal from a shelter is hugely beneficial on both sides. Whether or not you believe in karma, showing a kindnesss to an animal and giving them a life changing experience is incredibly positive for your own soul. Having rescued Buffy in 2014, I watched her grow from a terrified shabby looking animal to the beautiful, confident and loving cat she is now. This has been extremely positive for me. It’s a measure of what we can achieve as humans.
- Increased mood lift through interaction with the animal. The purring of a cat or a dog snuggling up combats loneliness and makes us feel worthy, needed and loved. When I arrive home and my cats are all waiting to speak to me (and yes be fed), it gives me a sense of my own wellbeing.
- Increased social skills. For clients who dread leaving the house, animals can provide interaction and combat loneliness. For those that were able to get out, it’s a chance to talk to others who have similar interests. For example, chatting to other dog walkers. Animals are a great icebreaker!
- Physical changes as already mentioned. The lowering of blood pressure, heart rate and breathing can all induce calmness and support increased perspective.
- Constant companionship, love and affection. Loneliness is one of the biggest causes of depressed feelings and having animals around can make us feel that we are not alone and someone is dependent on us.
- A sense of security. Having an animal in the house can make us feel safer (and it doesn’t have to be a large dog). My cats are like mini alarms. Any strange noise and they are immediately awake, ears pricked towards the intrusion. When they settle again and go back to sleep, the message is clear; “nothing to worry about” Ridiculous or not, I feel safer at night if Andy is away and the cats are on the bed with me.
- Routine. Having a routine and adding some structure to the day can help combat depression. Animals require feeding and sometimes cleaning out of areas where they live, and this work can remove us from our own troubles for a period and concentrate our focus on them instead of us.
Animals give us such a lot and ask very little in return. They don’t judge us, they don’t care how successful we are, or what we look like, their love is unconditional and they have the proven ability to help us cope with our anxieties and depressive feelings.
Of course sadly, many people do not have access to animals, as they may be living in sheltered housing, residential care or hospices. Thankfully, a number of charities and non-profits have undertaken to provide animals in this sort of setting and the benefits seem to be extraordinary. For someone who is bed ridden, a visit from a friendly animal can have a hugely brightening effect on their day, and quite possibly on their recovery.
Animals in therapy is not a new thing but I’m delighted that it seems to be an ever growing field. Charities and non profits such as such as Pets As Therapy and Pet Partners do amazing work visiting residential homes, hospitals and hospices giving comfort and respite to patients. If you are interested, please visit their websites for more information, they are always seeking volunteers and donations to help the cause!
Finally, if you don’t have pets at the moment, please consider visiting a rescue centre such as Blue Cross.(www.bluecross.org.uk). You can make such a difference to an animals life …and they will repay you by making the most incredible positive changes to yours ❤️