Meet Jase! (Why Animal Assisted Interventions?)
Pets come into our homes with a playful spirit which brightens our mood and brings comfort when we
struggle. Those who walk into my office are often dealing with some of the most difficult times of their
life. While it is second nature for some to gravitate towards their pet for daily comfort and affection, we
don’t always recognize the need for the same comfort in the work we do where emotions are high and
clients are tackling trauma head on. This is where Jase comes in!
Jase was a stray rescued from Texas and brought to a Colorado foster home while waiting for a
permanent home. Jase was as rambunctious and stubborn as they come. He suffered from
overwhelming separation anxiety. Blinds were destroyed and windows turned into escape routes. After
intensive training, we extinguished these behaviors and allowed all those amazing qualities he has to
shine through. This destructive side didn't work for him any more and he was shown ways to get his
needs met in a healthy way. Any of this sounding familiar? His story is not unlike many of the stories I
hear in my office. There was a negative experience, which led to him feeling or acting in unhealthy
ways, which further created chaos rather than important needs to be met. We understand that the unhealthy behaviors were survival skills,
which are no longer needed and no longer work. And the unhealthy feelings are fear or anxiety, which are no longer
warranted in the present day. Jase’s tale is something with which many of us can identify.
For Jase, it was a great story with a great soul.
Early on in my relationship with Jase, it
became clear he was very attuned to the feelings of those around him. He would naturally gravitate
towards people in distress and lean on them while encouraging them to pet him. He was a pillow for
those who were upset. I watched him calm anxieties and nuzzle someone while they cried. Jase wanted
to help and knew a bit about how to do it. It was a logical next step to see how he would do with clients
and it worked beautifully! Children who wouldn’t open up, laid on him for comfort as they spilled the
feelings they had hid well for so long. Adolescents who shut down, would forget they didn’t want to talk
as they got lost in playing with or petting Jase. Adults who would "check out" when anxiety was too much,
could lay him across their lap and stay grounded enough to push through some tough work. There were
so many times where I heard “I so needed you (Jase) today”.
Additionally, Jase signals to me when a client is having a big emotion so it doesn’t get passed over. This is
important when clients are working on identifying feelings or connecting feelings to experiences. It also
provides guidance too me, as the clinician, regarding areas to explore or information to keep track of as the
relationship with the client grows.
Sounds fun, but does it work?
Utilization of animal assistance in therapeutic work is growing. More and more counselors are seeing
the benefits of utilizing that relationship to help clients progress. Researchers are paying more attention
to these results and building evidence to support the effectiveness. A review of the research has found
animal assistance to:
- Lower stress responses in anxiety provoking situations (accessing trauma, test taking)
- Be a special support because they are a comfort as a best-friend without judgement
- Play an important role in enhancing traditional therapies
- Develop and strengthen attachment behaviors
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase Oxytocin, a hormone related to trust and positive mood
- Increases successful reintegration of our veterans after returning home
Every client who walks in our office has a different experience internally and in respect to the world
around them. Jase is another tool in our practice to better allow for the individualization of our
services to those who seek our support in their personal work and growth.
How Animals and Humans Heal Each Other - Read more.