Over the past twenty years, canine-assisted psychotherapy (CAP) has dramatically gained popularity as an adjunct therapy in the mental health field. The origins of CAP are traced back to the 1960s when Dr. Boris Levinson first discovered the positive effect his dog had on his patients. Although research evidence regarding CAP’s effectiveness is still limited, the anecdotal evidence is clear. For those clients who enjoy dogs, their presence brings comfort, reduces anxiety and fosters a sense of safety in the therapeutic environment.

What is the benefit of CAP?

For many, dogs can provide a sense of calm and comfort and divert attention away from stressful situations. Studies measuring a change in certain hormones and blood pressure have demonstrated that interactions with dogs scientifically reduce stress levels. This effect seems to be especially helpful when working with individuals with anxiety, depression, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, social anxiety and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. CAP is also beneficial for teaching clients to be in the moment, or being mindful, which is the foundation of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Additional benefits of canine-assisted psychotherapy include:

  • Reduction in anger
  • Decreased hostility toward the self and others
  • Improved social interactions
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improvement in self-esteem
  • Sense of empowerment

How is CAP used at Pasadena Villa?

At Pasadena Villa Outpatient Center-Raleigh, we have two wonderful therapy dogs. Lucky is our black lab mix who has been with us since January 2019. Cota, an Australian Shepard, has been in orientation training and will be ready for primetime soon.

In the past year, we have seen Lucky serve as a great icebreaker and provide support to anxious clients during the admission process. During the program day, Lucky makes her “rounds” between groups to check in with each client and is always available to clients who need a bit extra support.

Cota will be working in specific therapy groups designed to incorporate his skill set. For example, the “Inner Critic” group will utilize Cota as the sounding board for the client’s internal negative self-dialog. Cota is an exceptional listener. The other groups will incorporate Cota both by structured interventions as well as spontaneous interactions. For instance, he will be part of the self-soothing skills group that measures a reduction in pre-post heart rates. Cota is a natural for the job since he relishes being petted, hugged and kissed.

The genuine bonds that have formed with our therapy dogs have helped our clients develop a better sense of trust, stabilize emotions, and improve communication and socialization skills. Our therapy dogs also benefit from having the client interaction and enjoy all for the attention they receive. For more information about our outpatient services, call us today or find the location nearest you.