Pets and Mental Health Services: A Smart Pairing

Numerous studies have shown that pet ownership can reduce loneliness, aid in stress relief and even lower blood pressure. However a program in the United Kingdom is aiming to take things a step further by combining the professional expertise of a mental health expert with the calming effect of a furry friend.

An Individualized Approach

Established in 2010, the program is called HumAnima CIC and is focused in the West Midlands area. The counseling aspect is very similar to what a patient would experience by attending traditional sessions. By encouraging a non-judgmental environment where a patient can receive steadfast support, a counselor can make patients feel safe about discussing matters such as anxiety, addictions, stress and depression. The main difference is that patients also get access to a trained therapy dog who sits quietly in the room during a counseling appointment.

Kathryn Kimbley, the director of HumAnima CIC clarifies that just as traditional counseling often takes a very fluid approach, she uses a similar degree of flexibility in her animal-based efforts. Through her development of several approaches, she says she’s able to tailor efforts so they’re maximally effective for each client.

mental health dog therapy pet

Help for the Disadvantaged

Sometimes, people who have a limited income feel that mental health services are not available to them, or are not sure where to turn for help. However, Kimbley aims to change that reality. Currently, she strives to keep services affordable and takes a patient’s financial situation into account whenever possible.

In an interview with the Mentally Healthy website, Kimbley discussed her belief that economic factors and shrinking resources make it harder for people to succeed, which in turn causes excess stress and a tendency to neglect personal health needs. However, she said that her work with HumAnima CIC has demonstrated that people are less likely to feel intimidated when a counselor is accompanied by a therapy dog.

Other Things to Note

In addition to offering individual counseling services, HumAnima CIC is also beginning to partner with local businesses to offer customized outreaches for particular client groups. Workshops are also available. The motto of HumAnima CIC is “Working with Animals to Help People” and it fits well with the current business model.

Currently, the HumAnima CIC organization has one therapy dog, a four-year-old English Cocker Spaniel named Flossie. She has received specialized training and been deemed suitable for entering schools, residences and similar buildings.

HumAnima CIC offers a patient-centered approach that’s intended to help a person achieve their full potential. Sometimes patients mention that they’d rather go through the session without Flossie present, and Kimbley is sensitive to the fact that not everyone likes animals. However, she feels that animals can create a deeper sense of connection between a counselor and patient, making therapy more effective overall.

It’s still too early to tell whether programs like HumAnima CIC will spring up in other areas of the world. Animals have been used in many therapeutic ways, but HumAnima CIC is different because it blends individual counseling services with animals.

On the contrary, other types of animal therapy are usually administered in a group setting. However, since HumAnima CIC has gotten press coverage in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, it seems poised to be a pioneer in showcasing the effects of animal participation in mental health treatments, and perhaps encouraging other organizations to follow its lead.

[box]Vince Gilbert is an avid healthcare blogger. If you would like a career as a counselor, you may want to consider pursing a masters degree in counseling to get into the field.[/box]


One thought on “Pets and Mental Health Services: A Smart Pairing

  • February 27, 2013 at 8:58 am

    In my practice I observed that animal assisted therapy brings amazing results for children with Asperger’s syndrome. They develop strong bond with pets and some even practice on them social skills that I teach during psychotherapy sessions. I also posted an article on pet therapy in my blog, you can read it here:


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