By: Bunny Summer Young, MA, QMHP
Bringing dogs into a group therapy session or individual session with clients who struggle with anger issues is a powerful tool, especially when the dog has experienced a history of trauma or abuse. Clients hear the dog’s story and may easily relate to the dog. The need to bond with the dog can be powerful. Clients’ bond with the dog manifests itself by ensuring the dog does not have feelings of stress, sorrow, anger, or hurt the way that the client may have experienced. When petting a dog, a client naturally will slow their breathing to match that of the dogs (the exception would be if the dog is nervous or hot which would lead to the dog panting). The act of petting a dog lowers heart rates and blood pressure, creating a calmer environment. These are tools that the client can then use when he or she leaves the office. Often times the only tool needed will be to recall the powerful interaction the client felt in the office with the dog. This visualization will release the calming memory and the sensation that follows has almost as powerful an effect on the client as if the dog were actually present.
Another positive outcome of animal assisted therapy is with clients who have problems expressing anger. In this case, this interaction and the relationship that develops actually has been shown to decrease the occurrence of animal abuse for that client. By facilitating a positive, healthy experience with the dog, the client is more likely to continue to look for those meaningful encounters with animals and dogs rather than take out any of their frustrations or emotions on the animal. The therapeutic experience allows the client to build a mental connection with feelings of trust, companionship, reduced stress, and associate all of those positive experiences with the animal interaction.