Emotional Support Dogs' Effects on Anxiety, Depression, and Somatization in Elementary Students
Within the last few decades, there has been an ever-increasing clinical role for trained emotional support dogs (ESD) and their trained therapists in hospitals, courtrooms, and schools. More recently, within the last 5 years, there has been a prevalent trend toward introducing ESDs into schools, which has created an ongoing controversy about the legitimacy of this practice due to the lack of objective data and research on the topic. In this study, archival data analysis was conducted using data from 68 students with elevated scores for anxiety, depression, or somatization, 34 of which were in the treatment group and the other 34 in the control group. A quantitative approach was used to determine if the presence of an ESD in the classroom was associated with changes in teachers’ ratings of students’ scores for anxiety, depression, and somatization behaviors as assessed by the Behavioral Assessment System for Children over a 6-month period for children who were identified as having an emotional or behavioral disorder by the schools and district. The results indicated a statistically significant posttreatment difference between the scores for the treatment group and the control group. The results of the study provide quantitative data to support the current use of ESD programs in schools. The implications for positive social change include providing schools with an option for a low-cost, easily implemented, universal intervention that can assist students who struggle with mental health, some of whom may not otherwise have been identified as needing support. All students receive the benefit from the program without having to be singled out or labelled as would be the case with traditional pull-out programs.
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