“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Bernard Williams
Your counselor’s therapy service dog comes over and sits right beside your leg, his head tilted upward, his gentle gaze fixed on you. You only glance at him for a moment. But that’s all it takes. His warm puppy eyes, glimmering with expectation, goodwill, and love, captured your heart in an instant.
You instinctively reach out and pet his head. With a soft, satisfied grunt, he lays it onto your knee. His gesture sweeps away even the least bit of resistance left within you. Feelings of calm, warmth, and satisfaction wash over you. All barriers drop and a serene smile plays on your lips.
How did this simple animal just find the key to unlocking all the doors to touch your innermost feelings without one word?
Your Counselor’s Therapy Service Dog: The Secret Key to Your Heart
If you own a dog, you’re probably no stranger to the healing effects of their unconditional love and acceptance. If you don’t own one, you may wonder how a therapy dog contributes to you feeling so much better.
- They have a relaxing presence.
The presence of a dog – therapy service dog or not – makes you feel safe. It provides a calming and soothing effect, making your heart rate and blood pressure drop. In this relaxed and safe setting, it becomes much easier for your therapist to build rapport with you.
- They offer non-judgmental acceptance.
The consistency in a dog’s behavior is comforting and provides an emotional anchor. They are always happy to see you. Also, they are very forgiving and willing to accept you just the way you are, flaws and all. It’s a beautiful feeling knowing that you can count on someone who won’t judge you for anything you’ve done.
- They provide the positive benefits of touch.
Petting a therapy service dog makes you feel happier, even when you’re talking about something that is stressful. They usually notice very quickly when you’re emotional and need a “hug”, moving to your side to allow you to pet them.
- They model free expression of feelings.
The simplicity of their benevolence, their desire to be of service, and their ability to express their feelings without holding anything back encourages you to express yourself. When a therapy dog engages you – making you laugh or entertaining you in other ways – it takes the focus off of you and moves it to them. That can open up the way for you to talk freely without feeling like all eyes are on you.
Chemistry is the Key to Your Counselor’s Therapy Service Dog’s Appeal
Many of the aforementioned benefits are directly connected to the increase and decrease of certain chemicals in your body that stimulate positive emotions.
What exactly happens on this chemical level?
- Stress hormones decrease.
Interacting with a therapy dog causes a significant drop in stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of these chemicals are connected to high blood pressure, emotional problems, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. A drop benefits your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
- Feel-good hormones increase.
Interaction with the dog also causes a rise in healthy, stress-reducing hormones, such as dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. While dopamine and endorphins lower stress and anxiety and improve mood, oxytocin has the broadest effect and most powerful healing potential of them all. In fact, human-animal interaction has a very strong impact on the level of this particular hormone. A rise in oxytocin, in turn, stimulates good feelings, relaxes your natural defensiveness, and engenders care, trust, and bonding.
Yes, quite literally, you’ve got chemistry! And that chemistry creates a feeling of safety within you. And that is the secret key to why your counselor’s therapy service dog makes you feel so much better.