Pet Therapy for College Students
College can be a time of stress and loneliness for students. A new study shows that pet therapy may help ease the suffering.
In a pilot study aimed at assessing the effectiveness of an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) outreach program, researchers invited 55 undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college in the Southeast to participate. The students interacted with one of the college’s counseling staff, who is a registered Pet Partners therapy team member, and her therapy dog.
The sessions took place in a group setting at a residence hall lobby on the college campus twice a month for an academic quarter. Students were invited to drop-in and interact with the dog, the counselor, and other attendees for a period of two hours. The average attendance at each event was 10 to 15 students and participants spent anywhere from five minutes to two hours with the dog. Students were able to pet, hug, feed, brush, draw, photograph, sit near, and play fetch with the dog. The counselor provided information about the college’s counseling center, but did not provide counseling services or psychoeducation during the sessions.
The researchers found the program reduced symptoms of anxiety and loneliness in the students by 60%. Students (84%) said interaction with the dog was the most impactful aspect of the intervention. The other 16% said interaction with other students and staff members was most helpful. There was no comparator treatment, and certainly a double blind study would have been hard to pull off—maybe they could have used stuffed animals? Nonetheless, this intervention is easy to implement and inexpensive, and is probably worth trying. In fact, AAT outreach is gaining momentum on college campuses nationwide (Stewart LA et al, J Creativ Ment Health 2014;9(3):332–345).
CCPR’s Take: Pet a dog, feel better.
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