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Are therapy dogs like xanax? Does animal-assisted therapy impact processes relevant to cognitive behavioral psychotherapy?

By M. G. Hunt, R. R. Chizkov

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Abstract

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.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 27
Issue 3
Pages 457-469
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Publisher Bloomsbury
DOI 10.2752/175303714X14023922797959
URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/175303714X14023922797959
Author Address Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6241, USA.mhunt@psych.upenn.edu
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Hunt, M. G.; Chizkov, R. R. (2014), "Are therapy dogs like xanax? Does animal-assisted therapy impact processes relevant to cognitive behavioral psychotherapy?," https://habricentral.org/resources/43728.

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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal health and hygiene
  3. Animal injuries
  4. Animals
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Anthrozoology
  7. Canidae
  8. Canine
  9. Carnivores
  10. Depression
  11. Diseases and injuries of animals
  12. Dogs
  13. Emotions
  14. Follow-up studies
  15. Hygiene
  16. Mammals
  17. Pets and companion animals
  18. Symptoms
  19. therapy
  20. trauma
  21. vertebrates