Out of the Woods

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The Abundant Life Blog

Support Animals

Posted by cyndyadeniyi on April 23, 2019 at 11:15 AM


It's the newest fad in mental health treatment -- support animals. All around the country, therapists are being overwhelmed with requests from anxious, depressed, and socially fearful clients seeking a letter stating it is medically necessary for them to have an animal with them in places where animals are not normally allowed. (I'm not talking about taking a dog to a hospital or nursing home. That's different. It has been around for a while and we know it is effective.) Lots of people say having a support animal is incredibly helpful. They report the animals provide comfort and relief of symptoms. People report they are helpful with phobias like being on an elevator or flying. They reported the animal reduce anxiety during testing situations and interacting with new people.  The research is new, but it does (at least in the short-term) support that mental health symptoms can be reduced when animals are present. All that being said, here at Out of the Woods, we do not support the use of support animals. Here's why.

We Don't Know the Long-term Effects

One of the problems with fad therapy interventions is that they are by definition based upon recent, short-term research. Where is the 25 year long study on the efficacy of use of support animals? Where are the studies standardizing which animals are the most effective and what do do if a support animal dies?  It is possible one day we will know this information, but in the meantime, almost everyone who is practicing this is a guinea pig. (Pardon the pun.) 

Add to that the fact that we do have very effective treatments for the same struggles support animals are supposed to cure. Why not use what we know is effective. Well, a lot of what we know is effective is also uncomfortable. It requires some work on the behalf of the client. It means making changes and we a race really do not like to make changes. 

A Support for One Person is Someone Else's Big Problem

Perhaps I am a bit cynical, but nothing drives me more crazy than when someone has a pet I am allergic to in a place I have a right to be. My first encounter with this was a take your pet to work day about 15 years ago. Someone thought it was a good idea to put their pet in my office while I was out for the day. I sick for over a week. 

It's not just allergies either. What happens when your pet snake that brings you so much comfort causes some else to have a panic attack? What happens when your support dog decides to protect you by becoming an attack dog? (Which actually has happened.) My point being that sometimes having a support animal is an inconvenience to someone else. If that is the case, by choosing a support animal over any one of a number of other interventions, the supported person is being selfish. 

Is that being unfair to those who are using other types of support animals? No. When a guide dog is used to lead the blind it is because that has been determined to be the most helpful intervention. Further, a lot of care is taken in choosing which dogs are trained to be guide dogs so that they really are a service animal not a comfort animal. When a dog is used to predict and assist someone who is having seizures, it is because we don't have another way to do that. We have other ways to deal with test anxiety, fear of flying, 

The Comforter is Our Comforter

As believers we really need to focus on what the bible has to say about how to deal with the challenges of life. We are told very clearly what we are supposed to think about so that we can live lives of peace. We are instructed how to take our thoughts captive and how to trust in the God as we focus on His Kingdom instead of our daily, temporal concerns. 

Further, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. It is the Holy Spirit who is responsible for calming our fears and boosting our confidence. Any time we use some other intervention we are moving away from the divine intervention that is perfect and would never bite our neighbor. We have to get back to seeking the Holy Spirit to comfort us. Yes, deep breathing works. Yes, positive self-talk works. Yes, sometimes, support animals work. But really, do you want a hamster to try to do the job of the Holy Spirit?

Categories: Mental Health, Anxiety

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