“The household cat is really a tiger that has underwent three counselling programs.” Valeriu Butulescu
What science says about the human-animal bond:
A study published in a UK medical journal in 2016* shows that pets are an important source of support in managing mental health problems. Results from the study suggest a unique contribution from pets that extends beyond the support and connections provided by familial, friendship and weak tie connections.
Most people consider their pets as important as family members. Animals have great value in terms of companionship, love and support. Indeed, Alice is a constant and soothing companionship throughout the day since I am offering online counselling and working at home.
A variety of other studies have examined the benefits of caring for pets, demonstrating a reduction in stress, improved quality of life, improved physical health, increased social interaction, and reduced loneliness.
Some visible mental health benefits of caring for a pet:
1- For people experiencing grief or without close friends and family, the relationship with a pet is more intense and intimate; making the connection with a pet is the only thing that stays constant. It creates a sense of self-agency, certainty and order.
2- Pets can offer mindful distraction and disruption from distressing symptoms related to trauma and anxiety. Having a pet encourages exercise. The rituals of feeding, grooming, and caring for a pet, a consistent daily routine becomes vital for the well-being of people with symptoms of depression.
3- Undertaking the tasks associated with caring for a pet positively impacts how we view ourselves, building opportunities for self-acceptance and validation.
4- Most people feel that pets don’t hold past behaviours against them, accept them for who they are, and quickly feel their pets’ unconditional love.
5- Pets often introduce a sense of humour into difficult situations and are often the only thing that has the power to lift people’s spirits and mental wellbeing.
6- Pets are an instantaneous source of calming, therapeutic benefit. Pets are a source of physical contact and comfort. People with pets can channel their emotional energy, often not available elsewhere.
7- Pets can form enduring, trusting and secure relationships.
“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” Martin Buber
*Reference: Brooks, H., Rushton, K., Walker, S. et al. Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC Psychiatry 16, 409 (2016).