Most people love dogs, and there’s many good reasons for that. Whether you own a dog or just love the idea of a dog, there are many psychological benefits associated with having a canine companion in your life. Numerous research studies help to point out that dogs improve their human companion’s mental and emotional and physical health in some surprising ways, and at every stage of our lives.
Therapy Dogs help reduce stress
New research published in Academic Emergency Medicine indicates that for physicians and nurses working evening shifts in the emergency department, interacting with a therapy dog for several minutes may help lower stress.
In the 122-participant study, emergency providers randomized to a five-minute interaction with a therapy dog and handler had a significant reduction in self-reported anxiety using a visual analogue scale compared with patients randomized to coloring mandalas for five minutes with colored pencils. Also, at the end of the shift, emergency providers had lower salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) with either coloring or therapy dog interactions compared with controls.
"Many healthcare workers and laypersons believe that dog-assisted support can improve emotional well-being in the healthcare setting, but little hard data exist to scientifically evaluate this belief, especially in emergency care," said lead author Jeffrey A. Kline, MD, of the Indiana University School of Medicine. "We provide novel data to suggest that emergency care providers enjoyed seeing a dog on shift, and received a small benefit in stress reduction after the interaction. We still do not know the extent to which the benefit was from the dog, the handler, or the combination of the two."
Read this article on Science Daily: "Therapy dogs may help lower emergency clinicians' stress." ScienceDaily. 8 April 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200408085531.htm.
Dr. Holland's Perspective
"New research supports the notion that interacting with animals actually does decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) while helping to lower blood pressure. Other studies have validated what pet owners all over the world intuitively understand; that interacting with animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost a person's mood.
"I know from experience that dogs can serve as a significant source of comfort and support to people of all ages who are under stress, whether that is a pet at home or in a specially trained canine assisted therapy situation. Therapy dogs are especially good at calming patients in a hospital or clinic setting, and they also help people to feel more comfortable about opening up to a therapist. In essence, a well-trained social therapy dog can help to accelerate the healing process."
- Learn more about Dr. Holland's canine assisted therapy program
- Read about Dr. Holland's new therapy dog
- Learn about Dr. Holland's Therapy for Medical Professionals
Teletherapy Available - Short-term sessions, single sessions or ongoing support
Contact Dr. Holland for more information and for help, or call 707-479-2946 to schedule a telehealth video therapy session.
Blogging with Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD
The Dubious Connection between Physical Pain and Depression
As a psychologist I understand that pain and depression are closely related. Pain can be a two-edged sword, and studies have shown that depression can cause pain just as pain can cause depression. Sometimes this kind of cycle of pain and depression or feeling low, can wear us down, create added stress and interfere with our lives and disturb sleeping patterns. To get symptoms of pain and depression under control, it’s important to take proactive steps to keep yourself on an even keel.
My Own Experience
Though I don’t often talk about it, I live with physical pain every day. When the weather is cold and damp, life becomes even more challenging. This past month has been particularly intense in this way. As such, I notice my own thoughts automatically drifting toward the negative. The mental list of things that are difficult or ‘wrong’ tabulate in my mind without effort. And I understand that the weather will probably be getting worse for the next couple of weeks, at least. As a way to tackle my own discomfort and to lift myself out of the cycle of pain and depression I thought I would blog about gratitude and how this practice has helped me.
The Study of Gratitude
In recent years, the study of how a simple action such as practicing gratitude can boost happiness and alleviate depression has gained attention and momentum among psychologists and mental health professionals all over the world. Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative ruminations to positive outcomes. Gratitude practice has been shown to produce a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and helps to build enduring personal connections.
Count Your Blessings
Many people find putting pen to paper to compile a gratitude list, or to start a gratitude journal provides a sort of ritual experience that lets us focus on the positive events of the day. As we journal, we can write more detail about the events that make us feel appreciative. When I put some energy into focusing on my own situation and turning my thoughts toward what is right about my life, I can begin to build a list of items that I appreciate such as:
- I am grateful for my children and my husband. Adam and I have been together almost 25 years! That’s almost half of my life now.
- I am grateful I am healthy and that those that I love are healthy.
- I am grateful to have a few lifelong friends that support me, always.
- I am grateful for my Jewish Communities.
- I am grateful to have a job that allows me to be with people in meaningful and hopefully, in helpful ways
Expanding Gratitude into Work
Showing up and doing what I can do to help make a difference has a strong impact on my experience of pain and helps me to maintain an active, rather than a passive focus. About a year ago, I took a big leap and launched a private pay practice. Today it is thriving, and I am re-invigorated. In addition to seeing individuals, I have started a professional consultation group that is going well. I also currently run a grief group, and I am starting groups for people with disabilities and their families. I will be traveling a bit in the next few months to spread the word about a book that is coming out in March in which I am a contributor. Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences of the Trump Era. I also started a book club this year that is feisty and fun. And on my favorite weeks, I get to do a little singing with my friends at Ner Shalom.
Gratitude is an Effort Worth Making
To count our blessings or to focus on the positive when dealing with pain, depression and/or anxiety is challenging for everyone and it takes a conscious effort. However, when we adopt the practice of gratitude as a daily habit it can become an important routine and step towards self-empowerment.
Get Started with Your Own Gratitude Practice
Journaling is probably the easiest gratitude enhancing practice we can undertake. Creating a gratitude journal can be as simple as buying a blank notebook and writing down a few things you’re grateful for each night before going to bed. You can enhance your journaling experience by turning it into a ritual such as first lighting a candle, making yourself a cup of tea, sitting quietly for five minutes before you begin, etc. Whatever you choose as a ritual, do it consistently. It strengthens the ability to turn what you’re doing into a positive habit. Anything fun and relaxing, will give you motivation to form a new habit.
Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students proving beneficial for mental health
Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research from the University of British Columbia confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness. "Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students," said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study's lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology. "Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity."
In research published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later. The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.
"The results were remarkable," said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. "We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session."
While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study. Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.
"These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods," said Frances Chen, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. "Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful."
The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC's Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.
Story Source: Article provided by Science Daily & University of British Columbia. "Sit, stay, heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180312085045.htm.
Dr. Holland offers Canine Assisted Therapy
Connecting with a dog can be powerfully healing and comforting for individuals of all ages and walks of life. In some cases, it can help an otherwise “stuck” patient overcome hurdles in treatment and begin making progress again. The friendly, accepting nature of these beautiful animals makes them ideal “co-therapists”. Canine-assisted therapy has been around for several decades, and will continue to be used for years to come due to its many benefits. The use of dogs as part of therapy and other forms of treatment can be beneficial for a wide range of disorders, issues, and conditions.
About Tallulah – Canine Assisted Therapy
Tallulah is a highly trained service dog who works with Dr. Holland to provide assistance to clients in a variety of ways. She is warm, friendly, and very intuitive. This Labrador Retriever provides a connection that goes beyond words and straight to the heart. Depending on your needs, Tallulah can be merely a quiet presence in the room or be actively involved in therapy.