In some mental health settings therapy dogs are used alongside conventional treatments, such as trauma therapy or social skills training. Dog therapy is not a treatment in itself, but is very effective in supporting and enhancing other therapies.
The interaction with dogs can encourage patients in mental health settings to take part in group activities and therapy sessions. During contact with a dog, stress and anxiety are reduced, which can enable a patient to relax and open up, which is especially useful in trauma therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy and counselling sessions.
Dog therapy is mostly used for patients that suffer from depression. Petting a dog increases the release of endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. These have a highly positive effect on patients with depression, as they act as natural antidepressants. While focusing on the dog and its need, patients are distracted from their own problems. They have the opportunity to develop an empathetic bond with the dog and develop their nurturing skills and feelings of affection. They also get highly valuable stimulation of their sense of touch, which can help patients to feel more present in their body. The non-judgemental and unconditional acceptance of a dog can build a bridge to building positive relationships with people.