Children, who are traumatized, neglected, or part of a military family are at a much higher risk for developing long-term mental and physical health issues as adults. However, there is evidence that Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) helps children wade through life's murky waters.
Research shows that children who have suffered extensive abuse at the hands of humans are less likely to open up and trust another human to help them. It is more likely that they will lash out in an aggressive manner in an attempt to keep other people away. One of the more miraculous things about nature is the animal-human bond. While this phenomenon was largely overlooked by Western Civilizations, the effectiveness of this bond dates back to the beginning of recorded human history.
While it is not wise to bring an animal into an abusive environment, AAT provides a positive alternative that allows children to connect with animals while keeping them safe and therapy productive. Studies show that children who are unwilling or unable to communicate their troubles to humans will do so with animals. In as little as 15 minutes, endorphins begin to release, which brings with it a sense of well-being. This allows children to relax and open their minds to positive emotional intake. In addition to petting, children will talk to animals, show affection, and empathize. With frequent exposure to animals, in a positive setting, children begin to learn how to transfer that mindset to people, which affords children the best opportunity to form healthy bonds. When children are able to create healthy bonds with animals and people the risks of chronic mental or physical illness in adulthood reduces.
Children with a military parent in active combat can raise cortisol hormone levels in their system from the stresses of fear, abandonment, and uncertainty. Many experts suggest that this is one of the most stressful situations in childhood. These elevated hormone levels keep a child's body in a perpetual state of 'fight or flight' response. When cortisol is not allowed to naturally rise and fall in the system, it creates chronic stress. This leads to numerous complications of the autoimmune system, heart function, bone and muscle density, and cognitive impairment. AAT can help these children naturally lower their cortisol levels into a relaxed state.
Parents who find themselves losing their teenage children to peer pressure, drug abuse, or familial apathy should explore AAT options. Animal therapy has shown remarkable results in restoring a positive self-image to teenagers. Animals do not present themselves in a judgmental manner, which allows a teenager to feel accepted and appreciated. Frequently, parents experience frustration with the lack of progress in one-on-one human counseling. However, when viewed through the eyes of a teenager it is not surprising to find therapeutic roadblocks. While teenagers are experiencing tremendous changes to their physical appearance and chemical makeup, they are also extra sensitive to how people judge one another. To ask a teenager to sit in a room with an adult stranger who gives the appearance of judgment through assessment can be counter-productive. The good news is that more therapists are acknowledging the benefits of incorporating animal interactions in sessions. One of the best chances for wading through teenage turmoil is to find a trained therapist who utilizes AAT.
Further, studies suggest that the presence of animals in hospitals and doctor offices reduces anxiety levels. In addition, school studies show that academic facilities that incorporate positive animal interaction into their curriculum using a natural setting like a nature walk, rather than an artificial setting like a zoo, promotes sharper cognitive expression and greater learning potential.
To learn more watch Kids & Animals: A Healing Partnership.