How Can Animals Help When Healing from Trauma?

Man hugging his puppy.

How Can Animals Help When Healing from Trauma?

When trauma occurs, it can cause people to become emotionally detached and disconnected from the outside world. Many psychological effects can come from trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Learning to reconnect can be frightening, but animal therapy can assist a person who is having difficulty reconnecting. Animals can help the process seem less daunting and more accessible by providing the comfort needed. This allows them to open up and receive treatment, which ultimately helps them to succeed.

The Effects of Trauma

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people who experience traumatic events may feel heavily burdened while others may go their entire life without long-term effects. Everyone can be affected. Individuals, friends, families, and communities may face daily challenges from the effects of trauma.

As reported by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately six out of ten men experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. According to research, men are most commonly exposed to physical assault, accidents, combat, and disaster. Men are also more likely to witness injury or death.

Everyone expresses themselves and responds to traumatic events in different ways. How people respond emotionally can be very personal. People who have a robust support system and have the mental tools to handle stress from previous events or certain situations may not be mentally affected.

Conditions Linked With Trauma

A person affected by trauma may experience mental and physical symptoms. Growing up with a challenging childhood can make a person more at risk for developing problems after a traumatic event. Conditions linked with difficult life events may include:

  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Mental health conditions
  • Risky or impulsive behaviors

These behavioral health problems can cause challenges in a person’s:

  • Everyday work life
  • Relationships with family, friends, acquaintances
  • Education
  • Home Environment

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a type of therapy that directs qualified professionals to incorporate animals into treatment plans. This helps provide positive benefits for psychiatric and physically disabled patients. Animal-assisted therapy can also have positive benefits for patients with acute or chronic diseases as well. Treatment practices may include:

  • Lessons on the animal’s behavior
  • Assistance with life tasks
  • Animal-human bonding exercises

Mental Health Benefits of Animals

According to Husson University, animal companionship has been proven to provide both psychological and medical benefits. For people facing challenging life events, animals such as dogs, cats, horses, and even rabbits can bring great joy to their everyday lives.

This type of therapy can help someone cope and recover from their mental or physical health condition. The therapy also provides skill improvement while in treatment for trauma. Animal-assisted therapy can highly increase psychological support for patients in treatment facilities. Modern scientific research shows that stress is known to hinder the body’s ability to heal. Animals can bring great comfort and lessen stress. This type of therapy can encourage a faster healing process for those who need it most.

Hormonal Response to Animals

The presence of animals can also create and release happy hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. This generates a strong sense of relaxation for patients who have a love for animals. The release of hormones can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve a person’s mental health. Spending time in a hospital can be lonely and animals can provide the emotional support needed. This may make time go by faster during the phases of challenge a patient may feel during treatment.

Animal therapy can help break the ice for patients who experience difficulties opening up to therapists about traumatic events. It may be natural for a person to resist therapy at first. Lack of trust, limited comfort in a new environment, and nervous feelings can persist. Animal therapy can dissolve these barriers and substantially increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Moving Forward From Trauma With Animals

Animal therapy can have an impact on the mental health effects associated with trauma. Patients who have difficulty facing the symptoms and challenges of trauma may find improvement with animal companionship.

A majority of major hospitals, some psychological treatment facilities, rehabilitation centers, and even schools provide animal-assisted therapy services to people who need emotional support. Animal-assisted therapy can encourage a patient to work harder in treatment and find success while in recovery.