Achilles Healing Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy in Glasgow

Pets in Psychotherapy: Cats and Dogs Providing Wellbeing

Pops from "Dogs Love Couture" in Partick, Glasgow

Pops from “Dogs Love Couture” in Partick, Glasgow. Click pic to go to their webpage.

   There is a reason why cat and dog owners love their pets so much.  We know the positive feelings that come from sharing our lives with these lovely animals.  They give unconditional love that is hard to find and they never argue or cause us stress.  In fact, they often have a profoundly calming effect.  It is definitely worth getting over any misgivings you have in order to reap the rewards of forming an emotional bond with an animal.  It will be one of the most psychologically beneficial relationships you will ever have.

   Animal Assisted Therapy is now being used at state mental hospitals, such as Carstairs, but one of the earliest recorded accounts of AAT was in 1984 when a young child met Boris Levinson’s dog and there was a marked progress in the child’s mental wellbeing.  Until that point the child had not responded to other psychotherapy.  In Carstairs, they have found that AAT (or ‘Animals as Therapy’) is unquestionably therapeutic for patients.  Carstairs has had an Animal Therapy Centre since the mid 1990s.  They are also continuing to gather evidence on the progress of patients who have contact with animals, and have found that they have a greater sense of achievement, wellbeing and motivation.  Ian Russell, a senior staff nurse, was quoted as saying:


You can literally see the change in the patients’

demeanour when they come through the door. And when

we’re out with the animals, it’s simply great to see the

enjoyment that patients get. I could talk all day about

the therapeutic benefits that animals bring.


   Carstairs maintain there is a very good reason for not just introducing patients to animals that are well-behaved.  Sometimes both patient and animal have been the victim of abuse, and it has been found equally therapeutic for both to learn to trust one another.  There is a great deal of fulfilment and sense of self-worth which comes from the effort to change this situation of distrust.  Animal behaviour can be changed through positive reinforcement, as can human behaviour.  Over time people begin to realise this.

   Some patients have even had respite from symptoms of unseen stimuli whilst handling animals; they have changed embedded attitudes with regards to caring for animals when witnessing the effects of positive reinforcement; they have developed a desire to learn what the animals need in order to be cared for; they have developed an ability to empathise, particularly with animals that are disabled, struggle or are different in some way; and patients with a tendency towards violent and aggressive thoughts and behaviours have reported feeling less aggressive because they feel animals do not judge them.

  Studies have reported a 50% reduction in medication (Lee 1984).  Other studies have shown increased social interaction in psychiatric patients during dog visits (Hall & Malpass 2000).  Professor Francis of Virginia Commonwealth University studied the effects of AAT on elderly adults with chronic mental illness.  There were improvements on life satisfaction, psychological wellbeing, social competence, social interest, psychosocial function, mental function and depression (Odendaal 2002).

Teddy plays the blues.  Teddy from "Dogs Love Couture" in Partick.

Teddy plays the blues. Teddy from “Dogs Love Couture” in Partick.

  In a test at Carstair in 2000, patients who were uncommunicative and/or withdrawn were introduced to a visiting dog.  There were significantly fewer short responses to questions, some participants had improved posture, smiled more and in one case had almost absence of stereotypical movement.  The visiting dog seems to have created a more calm and positive atmosphere!

   Bruce Headey of the University of Melbourne conducted a study that showed people who have continuously owned a pet have fewer visits to their doctor; those who have a pet now, who have not owned a pet for the majority of their lives, have the second lowest rate of visits to their doctor and the least healthy group, with the greatest number of visits to their doctor, are those who have never owned a pet!  The study involved 10,000 people in Australia and 1,500 people in Germany.

   At Carstairs, marked improvements have been noted in patients with  hallucinatory voices, OCD/cleansing rituals, lack of motivation (to communicate and wash) and aggressive tendencies.  Those who have contact with the animals there often have a reduction in all these symptoms.

   Kaminski et al (2002) list numerous studies which found that pet therapy promoted social interactions and behaviour, increased emotional comfort, decreased loneliness and anxiety and provided a source of self-esteem and sense of independence (322).   Other studies including Siegel (1990) and Voelker (1995) support the positive effect of animals on reducing stress.

   Pets As Therapy (PAT) is a charity which provides PAT dogs and PAT cats for comfort, companionship and therapy, bringing benefit to 130,000 people every week in the UK.  They are also now becoming involved in AAT, which they distinguish as an intervention to help children with phobias and occupational therapy for stroke victims.

   Dogs and cats are the top two pets in the western world, and they really are remarkable animals.  Service animals are trained to help those with disabilities.  Guide dogs are perhaps the most well-known, but animals also help those with hearing problems know when the phone is ringing, for example.  Some animals, are trained to warn their owners of an impending epileptic fit so that the owner can get to a place of safety before the seizure occurs. 

   Most pet helpers are dogs, however monkeys have also been trained to perform manual tasks such as grasping objects and turning pages of a book, helping those with spinal cord injury.  They can microwave food, wash the paraplegic’s face and open drinking bottles.



Domestic pets are truly our best friends and marvellous little helpers who lift the spirits, so it is obviously a great misfortune to have a phobia of them.  Therefore, I am combining two of my favourite things, phobias and animals, and offering a discount on phobia therapy until the end of June.  I am particularly keen to speak to anyone with a dog or cat phobia and have enlisted the help of my fluffy friends at Dogs Love Couture in Partick, to help smooth over the transition from cynophobia to cynophilia!

   I look forward to hearing from you, and please be assured that all clients are always treated with the utmost sympathy, respect and confidentiality.  We go at your pace, and you are never forced to be in any situation that you are uncomfortable with.  Phobia therapy is a process of education and is a collaborative effort between client and therapist.  Please read the reviews on this website for feedback on cognitive-behavioural  hypnotherapy.



 Hall PL, Malpus Z (2000) “Pets as therapy: Effects on social interaction in long-stay psychiatry” in Br J Nurs 9(21): 2220-5

 Kaminski M, Pellino T, Wish J (2002) “Play and Pets: The Physical and Emotional Impact of Child-Life and Pet Therapy on Hospitilized Children” in Child Health Care 31(4): 321-35

 Lee, Dave (1984) “Companion Animals in Institutions” in Dynamic Relationships in Practice: Animals in the Helping Profession. Ed. Phil Arkow. Alamdea, CA : Latham Foundation.

 Levinson, B (1984) “Human/Companion Animal Therapy” in Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 14.2

Odendaal, J (2002) Pets and Our Mental Health: The Why, The What and The How New York Vantage Press

Siegel JM (1990) “Stressful Life Events and Use of Physician Services Among the Elderly: The Moderating Role of Pet Ownership” in  J Pers Soc Psychol 58(6): 1081-6

Voelker R (1995) “Puppy Love Can Be Therapeutic, Too” in JAMA 274(24): 1897-9

Internet Resources


One comment on “Pets in Psychotherapy: Cats and Dogs Providing Wellbeing

  1. normaaroy
    May 30, 2013

    I didn’t know this kind of therapy was on the go in the UK – what a wonderful idea!

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