Midwest Center has begun working with Colleen Sargent and her silky terrier Candy (pictured right), a certified Dog Therapy team, to provide Pet Therapy to its residents. Once a month Sargent and Candy, along with several other certified handlers and their dogs, allow residents to interact with the dogs in a relaxed, supportive environment.
“The kids are very excited when the dogs visit,” shares Sargent. “They are extremely respectful and gentle with the dogs, and enjoy petting them, playing fetch, and watching them do tricks. They also love talking with the handlers about their own pets and how much they miss them.”
In recent years, the benefits of Pet Therapy are becoming more widely understood and appreciated, especially in the mental health field. According to PAWS for People, a non-profit organization which trains and certifies Pet Therapy teams, the tangible health benefits of Pet Therapy include lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, and decreasing overall physical pain. Patients also enjoy a variety of mental health benefits, which include decreased depression and anxiety, diminished feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation, and improved communication and socialization skills.
“The benefits of Pet Therapy support the concepts taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and provide an opportunity for residents to practice their DBT skills,” says Midwest Center Clinical Director Jeremy Pape. “Focusing completely on the dogs encourages residents to practice being mindful, and the dogs provide a safe environment where residents can share their emotions non-judgmentally. Pet Therapy sessions also allow residents to use their interpersonal effectiveness skills while interacting with each other, the dogs, and the handlers.”
The positive effects of Pet Therapy sessions are best evidenced by the abundant smiles they produce. “When they’re interacting with the dogs, the kids are happy, calm, and well-behaved,” shares Sargent. “Our visits allow them to forget for a little while about their struggles, and just enjoy being kids playing with dogs.”
For more information about Pet Therapy, contact Colleen Sargent at 219-689-0260.