Despite an increase in the popularity of animal-assisted therapy, little is known about the impact of animals on processes relevant to effective psychotherapy. This study tested the impact of having a dog present on process variables relevant to cognitive behavioral therapy, including emotional arousal, the content of trauma narratives, and cognitive change. We employed an expressive writing paradigm as an analog of exposure therapy, a common evidence-based treatment for anxiety and trauma disorders. Participants were randomly assigned to either a trauma or control writing condition, with or without a dog present. Writing about a trauma resulted in significantly more acute anxious arousal than control writing, but participants in the trauma/dog condition showed less distress than those in the trauma/no dog condition. Despite the palliative effect of the dog on acute anxious arousal, process variables in the two trauma conditions were no different. Both trauma groups wrote comparable essays (rated on negative emotionality, cognitive insight, and severity of trauma). At follow-up, only the participants in the trauma condition with a dog showed significant decreases in depressive symptoms. The results suggest that dogs can lower acute distress without compromising emotional processing or therapeutic mechanisms, and may actually improve long-term outcome for some individuals.
|Author Address||Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6241, USA.email@example.com|
|Cite this work||
Researchers should cite this work as follows: