Pet Therapy – Counselors, Coaches and Therapists in Chesterfield

Animal-assisted therapy is discussed frequently in regard to hospital and nursing home visits, but it’s also used very successfully as an add-on to traditional counseling.

Did you have a pet when you were small, or do you have one now? Isn’t it amazing how, after a bad day, they seem to know you need some comfort? Therapy is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves, and therapy with a pet only makes it better. From the very young to the very old, it’s rare to find a person for whom the appearance of a pet doesn’t immediately improve their mood.

What is Pet Therapy?

Though it may sound like the animal is the main focus, the pet is actually secondary. The main focus of counseling stays the same—to help you find your way to a happier, more fulfilling life. Pet therapy works well with many types of treatment, including exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral modification therapy, and more. It also helps people going to therapy for many types of issues, including trauma, abuse, depression, anxiety, and just about anything else you can think of.

The benefit of having the animal present is simple yet profound. Animals do not know you and do not prejudge. They don’t know what you’re seeking counseling for, and it doesn’t matter to them anyway. Whether you are in counseling for abuse, dealing with a breakup, or life coaching, the presence of an animal can be very soothing. If you become stressed during the session, patients often find that stroking the animal’s fur can be very soothing. The animal often seems to know that patients are in distress, and will come sit beside them, offering silent comfort.

Animals used for pet therapy are typically pre-screened for temperament, and many are certified as “good citizens,” indicating they have excellent manners.

If the idea of a therapy animal in the room sounds like something that would make counseling more comfortable for you or your child, our counselors are trained in animal-assisted therapy. If you’ve been considering therapy for any reason, give Thriveworks Chesterfield counseling a call. We would appreciate the opportunity to help.

Who Can Benefit from Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Animals are accepting and non-judgmental, making it easier for people to open up.

Interacting with a friendly pet can help both physical and emotional issues. Research has shown that interacting with a trained emotional support animal can lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological heath.

Situations Appropriate for Pet Therapy

Pet therapy can be an adjunctive therapy for most situations, but listed below are a few situations it’s particularly useful for.

Pet therapy goals can include:

  • increasing self-esteem and confidence
  • improving focus and self-control
  • increasing verbal communication
  • developing social skills
  • increasing willingness to join in activities
  • improving interactions with others

Other benefits of pet therapy are:

  • decreasing depression, and improving one’s outlook on life
  • improving feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • reducing anxiety
  • helping children learn empathic and nurturing skills
  • providing a safe place for trauma recovery

If you’re still not sure, think about a small child who needs therapy for a traumatic experience. Though the therapist is trained to work with children, it may be difficult for the child to open up to a stranger. Cue the dog. Much of the first sessions may simply be the child getting comfortable with the therapist through the presence of the dog. The dog may provide comfort and make the child smile. When the child sees that the dog is responding favorably to the therapist as well, that can help them become more trusting of the therapist, allowing therapy to progress. Similarly, a person struggling with self-esteem may find that the unconditional acceptance of the pet during therapy helps them feel more accepting of themselves.

Aside from the reduction in stress hormones and the increase in oxytocin patients can receive from the mere presence of a therapy animal, the therapy animal can also be used as a catalyst for topics that might be difficult for the patient to approach directly. For example, personal grooming can be a delicate subject for some, so when the conversation is approached from the perspective of what the animal needed to do to come to work that day, the subject of what the patient needed to do to groom for the day becomes more comfortable (Uyemura).

Because many children, teens, and adults enjoy being with animals, pet-assisted counseling can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty expressing themselves in traditional talk therapy. How many of us talk to our pets when we’ve had a rough day? More than you might imagine. We appreciate their calm, quiet acceptance that asks nothing of us—and many people benefit from that same attitude during a counseling session. If you think you or a loved one might benefit from pet therapy, schedule an appointment today.

Pet Therapy Chesterfield

At Thriveworks Chesterfield, we’ve had measurable success with pet therapy. If you’re interested in trying it, just give us a call. We don’t use a waiting list and so can usually see you within 24 hours. We look forward to working with you on your journey to a healthier life.

Further Reading
Centers for Disease and Prevention. “Health Benefits of Pets.” April 2014.
Brandi-Ann Uyemura. “The Truth About Animal-Assisted Therapy.”

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    Chesterfield , VA 23832

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