Sovereign Health Group Blog

The healing power of animals

01-21-17 Category: Emotional awareness, Treatment

The healing power of animals

Pets offer comfort, companionship and unconditional affection. It’s relatively common knowledge that pets provide a wide range of health benefits to their owners. Keeping a pet can help a person’s blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But what many people probably don’t know is that just interacting with animals in a constructive environment can have a remarkable effect on mental health.

According to the American Humane Association, defines animal-assisted therapy (AAT) The association describes AAT as “a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.” The therapy can help reverse depression and yield many other benefits.

A primer on animal-assisted therapy

The animals involved in AAT differ from service animals, which live with patients full time. Animals involved in AAT work with therapists and patients. As such, they are not limited to common household pet species like dogs and cats. Horses, dolphins, llamas and a variety of other types of creatures can provide therapeutic benefit to patients through interaction.

Therapists use AAT to assist patients with a variety of goals. These include improving self-esteem, honing social skills and helping with anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other behavioral issues.

Patients and can quickly build a rapport with animals and see how their behavior affects another being. Animals respond honestly and immediately to humans’ behavior. This allows patients to see how their behavior affects others and practice building social skills.

Depression and oxytocin

AAT makes significant progress with individuals suffering from depression. Cynthia Chandler is a professor at the University of North Texas’ Center for Animal-Assisted Therapy. She notes research is scarce but exists that proves that AAT reduces stress hormones and increases oxytocin. She says, “There is actually a psycho-physiological, emotional and physical component to interacting with a therapy animal.” She adds, “Oxytocin is one of the best, most powerful, wonderful, healthy social hormones we have and it’s the one that’s the most grossly affected in a positive way through human-animal interaction.”


The American Humane Association’s Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK) Program pairs children with emotional problems with therapy animals. According to the report, these interventions, as they’re called, do wonders for abused children. According to the TASK report, interventions:

  • Aid in building rapport between the child and therapist
  • Provide comfort for the child and reduces anxiety and stress
  • Provide nonjudgmental acceptance and support
  • Establish security and a sense of normalcy
  • Reverse incidents of acting out
  • Allow children to practice social and communication skills with the animal
  • Allow the child to role play, project, transfer and re-enact experiences in a safe environment

Equine therapy at Sovereign Health

Sovereign Health uses equine therapy as one of its experiential therapy treatment modalities. Horses are very sensitive to the emotions and behaviors of the people around them. Working with, caring for and simply interacting with horses is a challenging and fun way for patients to identify and address their own thoughts and feelings. Please contact our 24/7 helpline to learn more about our various treatment programs!

About the author: 

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, Fichte and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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