Healing Relationships

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The Discovery Channel and the Animal Planet always been partial to those little segments about how guide dogs help blind people through life; they show you about how trained dogs can help deaf people take notice when the doorbell rings or when the smoke alarm goes off; and there are dogs that can sense and tell you about an impending heart attack or an elliptic seizure and to take medicine to prevent it. There are so many cases in which animals are known to form actual healing relationships with humans. People with Parkinson’s disease who sometimes become temporarily unable to move, find that a trained animal can help them overcome the freeze and move again. In hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where the vulnerable live, animals like birds, cats, rabbits and dogs are often brought in to help inmates feel better about life and to feel inspired.

These are wonderful ways in which humans establish relationships with animals. But as psychiatrists are beginning to see, the healing relationships that people can form with animals can help them with mental ailments or conditions as well. The Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy by Dr.Aubrey Fine has quite a few inspiring stories of how this kind of thing is possible. Consider a child who has a problem with interacting with people. Children like this somehow can speak perfectly well with certain people – at home say – but simply cannot speak with anyone else – at school or elsewhere. It isn’t that such children somehow refuse to speak; they’re just too terrified, somehow. A trained animal can really help in these cases of mutism.

In such a case, the doctor tries to help the child by giving him a friendly little trained animal to play with. The animal is trained to only play with the child for a few minutes and to leave after that. The child at this point is desperate to have the cute little animal back; the doctor will tell the child that the animal will only come back if the child will speak to it. Children who are victims of abuse can really open up after establishing healing relationships with animals too. Doctors for instance tell children like this that an animal they are allowed to play with was once a victim of abuse itself. Animals somehow just help children open up.

Still, the kind of benefits there are to healing animals aren’t completely recognized yet. Much study still needs to be done. There are studies on at this time looking into how autistic children and children with ADHD can improve so much with establishing healing relationships with horses and going horseback riding. There are studies being done that are trying to find out more about the exact breeds of cat that can help autistic children. A well-trained pet can be so much help.