La Coop P.A.- General and Forensic Psychiatry - Boutique-Private Psychiatric and Forensic Practice in Tampa-Clearwater-Florida


December, 2010


This is the time of year when people start getting excited and hopeful for great things to come. However, unfortunately, not all of us have something to look forward to. I'm not talking about people, guys - I'm talking about animals. Given the economic issues that the country is facing, many people have given up their pets. I know that there are a lot of you out there that have pets and love them as much as I love my babies. I also know some of you out there that would greatly benefit from having a pet in your life.

I don't have stock in PetSmart and you can really go anywhere to adopt a pet in need, but I have been hearing ads on the radio for PetSmart Charities where you can get information on how to get one of these babies for your home this holiday season.

Below I review some research on the benefits of animals on our mental health.

In closing, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of you from my family, and wishes of health and prosperity for the coming year.

Dr. L

The Healing Power Of Animals

Animals are so important to people in so many ways. Some think that they remind us of our connection to nature and therefore they have a therapeutic effect. Others feel that they build our capacity for emotion as they don't just understand words - it's actions and feelings that they are responding to. Others understand that biologically, they have benefits as research has supported it, hence therapy dogs, and guide dogs.2

In any event people can benefit from animals in some major ways:

  • Increase Socialization - research has been done in England on the effects that having a dog with you on a walk increases your approachability and perceived sociability. When one was walking a dog (man or woman) 65 people stopped to speak with the person. While the person was walking alone, only 3 people stopped to talk.1
  • Decreased Aggression - therapy dogs have been used particularly around geriatric patients with dementing disorders and/or around children on a Psychiatric unit with developmental disorders such as Autism to decrease their irritability and aggression. I'm not suggesting that you get a dog and let a violent child loose on it, what I'm saying is that in a controlled setting animals can provide calm and with their unconditional love can extinguish a potentially volatile situation.
  • Increase Empathy - I treat a lot of patients with empathy problems both in the correctional and the outpatient setting. This is a problem that is very difficult to treat or teach as this is something that is typically developed when we are children. However, it can still be learned as adults and animals can help with it. For example, this can be very effective for those with Autism who have a very difficult time understanding how they come off to people because people are a little bit more subtle and just won't talk with you again. Animals on the other hand will retreat, bark, hiss, whine, or squawk. Having an animal do that in session or in one's home should give the person eliciting that response some pause to wonder how they may handle the situation differently. It's also up to you, the human to reinforce that lesson.
  • Improve Mood and decrease Anxiety - animals sense emotions in humans with good precision. I hear countless stories from patients who tell me that when they are down, their dog/cat responds differently and will lick their hand or lay on their lap. This not only distracts the human from their emotions or fear, but is also soothing that this animal is there and attempting to soothe their [emotional] wound. There has also been biological data that supports this in that pet owners have lower levels of cortisol overall (biological indicator of stress) and even patients who visit with therapy dogs briefly show decreased blood pressure and lower cortisol levels at the time they are with the animal.1,2
  1. Jackel D. The Power of Pets. In wondrous ways, animals help us feel better. Esperanza. Fall 2010. 16-23.
  2. Glucksman M. The Dog's Role in the Analyst's Consulting Room. JAAP. 2005. 33(4) 611-618.
  3. Lipton L. Some patients petting their way to improved mental health. Psychiatric News February 2, 2001 vol. 36 no. 3 17.

What to do if you don't have pets, or can't afford one?

  • Visit a Zoo.
  • Put up a bird feeder outside of your home.
  • Walk a friend's dog.
  • Volunteer at an animal center.

FYI: I will be out of the office from December 23rd - December 30th. However, Rene will still be in the office much of that time. The office is closed all together on December 25th for Christmas. Just keep this in mind when making plans.

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