Animal-assisted therapy for depression

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Dogs as therapists for depression? The Center for Mental Health at the Marienheide Clinic is currently investigating the benefits of animal-assisted therapy for depression.

Can Dogs Treat Depression? In a study at the Center for Mental Health at the Marienheide Clinic in Gummersbach, the possibilities of animal-assisted therapy for the treatment of people with depression are being examined for the first time.

Under the senior senior physician of general psychiatry at the Marienheide Clinic, Dr. Andreas Sobottka, the world's first scientific study on animal-assisted therapy in humans will be carried out. Six dogs are to be used to treat depressed patients over a period of eight weeks. The treatment results are documented in detail using questionnaires, then evaluated in a comprehensive study and published in the specialist journal "The Nerve Doctor", explained Dr. Andreas Sobottka.

Treating Depression with Dog Therapy "There is evidence that dealing with animals reduces stress and anxiety, improves self-confidence, has a calming effect, lowers high blood pressure, reduces cortisol levels in the blood and reduces pain," said Dr. Sobottka. However, according to the expert, there is as yet no scientifically substantiated evidence for the positive effects in depression. The doctors at the Marienheide Clinic now want to change this with their study. The professional dog trainer Mareike Doll-Degenhardt will come to the Center for Mental Health twice a week with four dogs each, where over the next eight weeks 60 patients with mental illnesses will have a little time with the dogs Buddy, Penny & Co should spend. From now on, the group of the first 15 patients will take two additional half-hour therapy sessions with the dogs per week, reports Dr. After four weeks of dog therapy, four weeks follow with conventional treatment, with a second group being treated in parallel initially without additional therapy and then after four weeks with dog therapy.

Patients should face challenges together with dogs The dog trainer Doll-Degenhardt runs a dog school and breed for Australian Working Kelpie in Wermelskirchen, an eager yet calm dog breed with high intelligence and independence. Australian Working Kelpie like to work and learn, react sensitively to people and cope well with stress, the dog trainer explained. Buddy, Penny and the other dogs take care of Mareike Doll-Degenhardt's sheep in everyday life. But in therapy, they should now play and work with the depressed patients, with each patient having their own dog, or always working with the same dog during therapy sessions. The experts "put together various exercises", but the sessions can also be designed individually - "depending on how the dog and the person feel", emphasized Dr. For example, patients with fears should learn to assert themselves through handling the dogs or train patients with obsessive-compulsive neurons "to let the leash loose," explained the specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy. In order to establish a relationship between the therapy dog ​​and the patient as quickly as possible, each session will involve a common task that represents a challenge to be overcome by humans and dogs, says Dr. Sobottka continues. The dog trainer Doll-Degenhardt is also always present during the therapy exercises.

In order to check the effectiveness of dog-assisted therapy on the emotional experience and depressive symptoms of the patients, the results of the treatment are recorded in parallel in scientifically standardized questionnaires and then evaluated in a comprehensive study, emphasized Dr. Andreas Sobottka. "While there have been individual reports from nurses who have seen improvements in the course of animal therapy in patients with depression, no official study has yet been carried out," the expert emphasized the importance of the current investigation. The specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy plans to present the first results in around six months.

Doctors hope to shorten the duration of treatment To finance the study, the Oberberg Clinic, as the sponsor of the Center for Mental Health in Marienheide, raised its own funds. The managing director Joachim Finklenburg emphasized that he was happy to provide the funds, because "ideally" that "animal-assisted therapy helps with depression", an inpatient stay in a clinic could be avoided entirely for some patients. "It's great that our doctors are working on the further development of treatment methods" in the interests of the patients, explained Joachim Finklenburg. Dr. Sobottka hopes that dog therapy will have a positive effect on patients with depressive disorders, which, according to him, would make it possible to shorten the duration of treatment and to cover the costs of therapy through the health insurance funds. In addition, the current study could help to introduce general quality standards for animal-assisted therapies, said Dr. Sobottka.

Diverse medical use of dogs The use of dogs for therapeutic purposes has been in testing for a long time. The loyal four-legged friends are not only used for the treatment of depression but also for example for dementia. In addition, dogs with their fine noses already helped diagnose cancer and served epilepsy patients to warn them in good time of an attack. However, as the studies on the treatment of depressed patients show, the possibilities for the medical use of dogs do not seem to have been fully exploited. Here, however, the first scientifically sound study of the treatment success of animal-assisted therapy, which has now been started, represents significant progress. (Fp)

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Video: The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy for Psychiatric Patients

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