WHAT IS PTSD?
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been exposed to a traumatic event. Typically, the sufferer is assailed by fear, constant awareness of imagined danger, depression, and feelings of anger, powerlessness and loss of control.
Anyone who has gone though a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include:
• Combat or military exposure
• Child sexual or physical abuse
• Terrorist attacks
• Physical assault
• Serious accidents, such as a car wreck
• Natural disasters
Some of the above mentioned symptoms are natural for most people after any traumatic event. But if the symptoms persist – and worsen – then the sufferer may have PTSD.
The condition is still not very well understood, as many matters related to the brain aren’t, and there is no surefire treatment yet that guarantees 100% recovery.
At best, symptoms are managed with medications and brain therapy, and PTSD patients undergo a variety of rehabilitation programs with the hope that these calming, repetitive activities with soothe the mind and help their return to normal daily life in the near future.
WHY ANIMAL THERAPY IS EFFECTIVE IN PTSD TREATMENT
A variety of animal therapies are suggested for PTSD sufferers – like equine therapy – because proximity to living creatures who are non-judgemental, safe and benign brings their guards down and makes them more open to engagement.
Looking after, loving or caring for an animal offers many comforts of companionship without the stress and friction, and studies have shown that PTSD sufferers do make significant progress when they are engaged in some regular activity that involves animals.
WHY K9 DOGS MAKE PERFECT PARTNERS FOR PTSD SUFFERERS
As any dog-lover will concede, nothing mends broken feelings and broken hearts, and teach people to love again, hope again as much as the unconditional companionship of a dog.
In any commonplace, negative life situations, humans turn to their pets for solace because there is complete security and constancy in the love they get from them.
In the case of trained psychiatric service dogs, the companionship is even more meaningful because the animal is trained to perform many ancillary caretaking duties.
For example: security enhancement tasks. PTSD sufferers are constantly on guard against outside threat, and a psychiatric service dog is trained to step in and `cover’ when he/she feels that the handler’s apprehension is spiraling out of control. Over time, the handler learns to trust the dog’s instincts and together, they learn to share the responsibility of the stress – and gradually lessen its impact.
Flashbacks and insomnia are two of the most common symptoms of PTSD, and when the handler is in the midst of such an event, the service dog is fully aware of the need to wake the handler and free him/her from the grips of a waking or sleeping nightmare.
Typically, a dog trained for PTSD companionship will know the following duties:
• Alleviate anxiety and provide psycho-emotional grounding by nudging, pawing, and leaning.
• Assist a person in waking from night terrors and nightmares.
• Bring medication to a person on command or when alerted to do so by a timer/alarm.
• Stand in front of, or circle an individual, in crowded areas in order to create personal space in a non-aggressive manner.
• Lead an individual safely to a building exit when experiencing an anxiety or panic attack.
• Get help by alerting another person or activate an emergency button or alert system.
Some life-enhancing changeovers that veterans with PTSD attest to after getting a psychiatric therapy dog are:
• Increased serotonin levels (happy hormones)
• Lower blood pressure
• De-intensification of episodes of depression
• Successfully preventing people from crowding around or rushing up to them, thinking they can help.
Not just the PTSD sufferers themselves, trained therapy dogs are a godsend for the handler’s family too. Fear, worry and stress for their loved one can wreck havoc on personal relationships and family life, and the presence of a trained dog as constant companion is an effective way to lower anxiety on the whole family as such.
According to the US Department Of Veteran Affairs, the number of returned vets with PTSD is staggering:
• 31% of Vietnam veterans
• 10% of Gulf War veterans
• 11% of Afghanistan veterans
• 20% of Iraq veterans
And that is not counting civilians who have fallen prey to the mental affliction on account of horrific life events.
It is nobody’s case that therapy dogs are a solution to this rather complex and barely-understood problem. But there is no doubt either, that dog companions are one of the most effective rehab facilitators, and their contribution has been huge in helping sufferers take their first, tentative steps back on the path to hope and recovery.