Anxiety and anxiety disorders have become more prevalent in the last decade. There are many reasons for this rise. In the last year, one of the main reasons—although, by far not the only reason—is the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter the source of your anxiety, there are a lot of therapies for you to try. Visit https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/therapy/5-types-of-therapies-for-anxiety/ for information about the types of therapies that treat anxiety.
One increasingly appealing therapy mentioned in the article cited above is therapy animals. There are a few ways that animals can support anxiety therapy. Plus, although dogs are the most recognizable therapy animal, they are not the only ones available. In the rest of this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about therapy animals, the best animals for therapy, and how animals can help your anxiety.
What are therapy animals?
You may have heard the terms service animal, emotional support animal, and therapy animal being thrown around lately. These categories are not the same. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provides four separate categories for animal support.
Animals that assist emotionally or perform tasks for a person with a disability. These animals do not need to perform a specific function for their owners. Assistance animals vary but are usually companion animals like dogs, cats, or horses.
Service animals, on the other hand, perform a specific function for their owners with physical or mental disabilities. These functions vary from leading a blind person, alerting those with seizure disorders that a seizure is imminent, or helping calm a person having a panic attack. Dogs are the most common type of service animal.
Emotional Support Animal
These can be an animal of any species and do not have to be trained to perform a specific task for their owners. Emotional support animals are not classified as service animals in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, their use is usually supported and recommended by a licensed physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.
The final category of animals who aid with mental and physical problems is the therapy animal. These animals perform an integral role in the therapy itself. The therapy could take the form of individual or group classes. Horse therapy is probably the most popular of this type.
Animals and anxiety
Now that you know a little bit more about animals and therapy in general, it is time to discuss how animals can help you manage your anxiety specifically. Any type of animal assistance could be considered for a person with anxiety. The type of animal (service, assistance, therapy, or emotional support) you are prescribed will depend on the type of anxiety disorder(s) you have and its severity.
Service and assistance dogs can be recommended for people with anxiety. However, to receive one you have to meet certain criteria. These are the most rigid classes of assistance animals and are the two types guaranteed rights through the ADA. Your psychiatrist may recommend a service or assistance dog/animal if your anxiety disorder is classified as a mental disability that affects your day to day life. Other criteria will also have to be met.
- The animal has to provide a service that would directly positively affect your disability. For example, a service dog trained to stop panic attacks benefits a person diagnosed with panic disorder.
- To bring the animal home you will also need to be active in the animal’s training, be able to give commands and provide care to the animal, have a stable home environment, and be able to afford the animal’s care.
It takes a lot to qualify for a service or assistance animal. Usually, only those with extremely severe anxiety disorders meet the criteria. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of an emotional support animal. In fact, there are many pros to emotional support animals.
Most importantly, emotional support animals can be from any species. They do not have to be dogs or cats. These two domesticated pets are the most common type of emotional support animals. But, there have been emotional support pigs, horses, hamsters, even reptiles.
There is training for emotional support animals. Yet, this training is much less intense than for service and assistance dogs. Emotional support animals are there to provide comfort mainly, both throughout the day and during anxiety episodes. You will still need a physician’s or psychiatrist’s note to obtain an emotional support animal. They are less expensive than service or assistance animals, though. Plus, you may be able to train your existing pet to fulfill this role.
If you have mild to moderate anxiety, an emotional support animal may be the right choice for you. If, on the other hand, your anxiety makes day to day tasks difficult or even impossible, then a service or assistance animal could be a better choice. The decision will be up to you and your therapist.
Anxiety sufferers do not have to live life unassisted. In addition to more traditional therapies, you may qualify for a support, assistance, or emotional support animal. Your counselor will be able to direct you to the type of animal that will help your symptoms.
We have not discussed them much in this article, but depending on your anxiety disorder, you may want to consider a therapy animal program. Those people with social anxiety disorder, especially, benefit from the non-judgmental interactions with animals in these therapy programs. There are a number of animal therapy non-profits and programs out there. Talk to your therapist or run a search yourself to find a good program near you.
As you can tell by this article, there are a lot of ways an animal can help someone with an anxiety disorder. Dogs, cats, horses, whatever companion animal you prefer can help you beat the symptoms of your anxiety. Don’t let anxiety control your life. Try a service, assistance, therapy, or emotional support animal today.