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Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Creative Solution for College Counseling Centers

Pet therapy programs at colleges and universities are emerging across the nation in an effort to meet the increasing mental health needs of college students. Counselors and school administrators have found that qualified companion dogs provide a creative solution to the increased demands and reduced budgets many college counseling centers face.

Researchers at Georgia State University, Idaho State University and Savannah College of Art and Design decided to test the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in which a registered therapy dog was under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner. They held bi-monthly group sessions where students were invited to stop by and interact with the therapy dog for up to two hours.

With a sample of 55 students from a small Southeastern college, they found a reduction of self-reported anxiety and loneliness symptoms in 60% of participants. The vast majority of participants (84%) also reported that their interaction with Sophie, the therapy dog, was the most significant part of the program.

Schools across the nation are taking the idea of pet therapy and are adapting it to fit their own college. Emory University encourages students to regularly visit their counseling center to interact with the pets they host there; pet-friendly dorms have appeared in a number of colleges and universities including the University of Northern Colorado, Stetson University, and Washington & Jefferson College; and both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School have resident therapy dogs in their libraries which students can check out as simply as they check out a book. Several of Screening for Mental Health’s CollegeResponseschools have also successfully used this creative idea to attract students to their National Depression Screening Day® events.

In a time where the number of students arriving on campus with mental health issues is increasing, animal-assisted therapy provides a creative way to help reduce symptoms students are facing and support students through stressful times.