Pet therapy: Casey’s Depression What people don’t know about depression is that a lot of times there is no reason for the unhappiness; there doesn’t need to have been a traumatic experience to feel depression. Of course, that can be the case if the trauma is not dealt with. Either way, depression can take over our lives before we know what hit us. When there has been no trauma, as in the following case study, people feel hopeless that they can find happiness again. After all, why would they think they could feel better if nothing specific is wrong in their lives? They don’t have a trauma to deal with, and they don’t have a specific change to make. Unfortunately, that is one reason people mistakenly don’t seek treatment. But things in our brain circuitry change quickly without our knowledge and often without reason, and we end up feeling depressed and don’t know how to feel better. Traumatic experience or not, there are many therapeutic treatments designed to help people with depression. So many people suffer from depression, and many find their way back to happiness with effort and trust in therapy and their therapist. If it weren’t possible, people wouldn’t seek therapy because there would be no evidence of that people can get better. It is important to know that therapy is a slow process no matter what, which is why you need to trust in it.
Pet therapy is one therapeutic intervention that works to treat depression and other psychological problems in people who like animals. It is used as an adjunct to more traditional therapies. The following account of Casey’s depression and pet therapy as part of her treatment shows how it works:
Casey came to therapy because she was feeling depressed, and couldn’t function anymore. There were some days that she couldn’t get out bed, she stopped talking to her friends, and felt that her life wasn’t worth living if she had to feel pain all the time. She didn’t know why she felt so unhappy; nothing bad was happening to her, but she couldn’t shake her unhappiness. Her mother begged her to try going to therapy, and told her about The Center For Growth, and Annabell the therapy dog who works there.
When Casey arrived in my office, she looked pale and tired. I asked her to have a seat wherever she liked, and my trained and licensed therapy dog Annabell ran to her and leaned into her. Annabell can sense people’s moods. Casey began to pet her, and Annabell moved in closer and loved Case immediately. Casey and I talked about Annabell for a little while; she asked many questions as she pet her. Annabell rolled over on Casey and acted like a clown, making her laugh. It had been a while since she laughed. Casey seemed much more relaxed within a few minutes. That is one effect of a therapy dog: she helps people relax so they can benefit from therapy.
When Casey felt less anxious, we began to talk and develop a relationship so that she could feel safe. She continued to pet Annabell for the rest of our first session together, and periodically Annabell let her know she was enjoying Casey’s company with a nudge and a lick.
Casey and I began to meet once a week. Each time she arrived, Annabell ran to her and couldn’t wait to sit with her. Casey and I explored her feelings and her life slowly, and when she needed a break, Casey would help me teach Annabell new tricks. She commented on the fact that you can teach a dog new tricks, despite popular belief. She enjoyed her time with Annabell and in therapy, and it reminded her what feeling relaxed and happy felt like. This made her more and more determined to work toward overcoming her depression.
Eventually, Casey started to get out bed, and out of her house. She made slow but steady progress. We continued to meet once a week for the next couple of years because Casey felt that even though she was feeling better, she felt best after leaving therapy, and never wanted to hold anything in that could lead her to depression again. She was able to talk, get things off her chest, and never be judged by the ever-loving Annabell.
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