The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

Animal-Assisted Therapy in Colleges: Enhancing Mental Health and Wellness


Different stages of life are associated with certain experiences, stresses, and anxieties. One of the most difficult periods is the time of higher education. Young students’ still underdeveloped psyche is affected more under the influence of heavy academic loads and the realization of the level of responsibility. Recent research by American scientists suggests that animal-assisted therapy can have a positive effect on the emotional state of college students. At a time when to select the most suitable breed of assistant dogs, it is possible to test with a special dog dna kit and find the friendliest dogs to provide psychological assistance. Physically healthy dog breeds with the ability to train and learn human psychological support skills can do more good for society than some unproven therapeutic techniques.

Furry psychologists: Animal-assisted techniques for mental health support

Animal helping in the psychological field is not a new concept. At the start of the 1990s, psychotherapy methods began to proliferate that actively utilized various types of pets to help treat patients’ mental health problems, fears, and emotional stress. Support animals are not only dogs, cats, and other pets. Dolphins, horses, alpacas, and other big farm animals are used to cope not only with mental health problems but also with human somatic problems.

According to recent American laws, service assistants, which are most often dogs, are allowed to accompany their “patients” not only in medical and rehabilitation facilities. But also in schools and other educational organizations, where children and teenagers experience quite a lot of stress and anxiety. Specialized centers offer training and licensing services for therapy dogs.

Therapist Dogs: A Research Methodology for the Treatment of Academic Stress

The results of a University of Washington study in conjunction with the Waltham Petcare Research Institute were recently presented to the public. Scientists and psychologists tested academic stress prevention programs for 12 weeks with a group of 300 students. The test subjects spent 4 hours daily with trained pets, and their measures of attention, memory, self-regulation, and other cognitive performance improved significantly.

Interacting with “furry therapists” helps individuals get time to calm and relax, distract themselves from tasks, and receive positive emotional stimulation. As a result, this exposure leads to an improved ability to concentrate and absorb new information.

The proven benefit and effectiveness of animal therapy in preventing mental health problems during training has become the foundation for the creation of government programs for educational institutions in the United States.

Emotional Support from Pets for Young Students

Research on the positive factors and how to effectively utilize animal-based emotional support tools continues for different populations. Already today, certified service animals are allowed in airports and even on board airplanes to accompany sensitive people with confirmed anxiety and symptoms of aerophobia. It is through socialization and constant contact with pets that stress levels caused by various factors are reduced.

That is why therapeutic support from therapy dogs is becoming one of the relevant and affordable effective forms of helping young people studying in colleges across the country. The young generation is one of the most vulnerable groups of people who need more attention from mental health professionals.

In addition to the positive effects on mental health and overall wellness, the results of animal therapy are an increase in the overall academic performance of students.

Innovative Animal Therapy Programs at U.S. Colleges

Experts in the field of animal therapy say that pet therapy helps new students cope with feelings of homesickness and family, encourages openness and a healthier and more active lifestyle, and eliminates destructive emotions of loneliness. At the same time, for introverted teenagers, attending animal therapy classes improves socialization and communication skills.

The first formal programs have already been successfully launched at several educational institutions in the United States:

  • “Paws to Rest” program at the University of Connecticut
  • Pet Anxiety and Stress Relief for Pets (PAWS) program at the University of Minnesota
  • “Dogs on Campus” program at Kent State University
  • “Pet Therapy Program” at the University of Miami

It is predicted that similar wellness techniques will be implemented in other states where students will have access to animal therapy tools to help improve their mental health.

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