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Bipolar Bonding and Healing through Animal Therapy

For individuals dealing with severe bipolar disorder, animal therapy can help them further the healing process beyond the traditional treatment environment. Patients with complex psychiatric issues require integrative, multifaceted treatment approaches to improve every aspect of their well-being.

Animal-assisted therapy has an extensive range of benefits, such as improving social skills, communication skills, and coping abilities, reducing mental distress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness, enhancing empathetic skills, and decreasing blood pressure.

Bipolar bonding through connection with animals is essential to healing and managing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Individuals can discover a deeper understanding of themselves and the animals by participating in animal therapy.

A Deeper Look at Animal Therapy

Animal therapy is beneficial for a variety of mental health conditions, not just bipolar disorder. This therapeutic intervention can also be used to help individuals deal with stress, anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, addiction, schizophrenia, and certain medical conditions.

Animal therapy relies on the bond that can develop between people and animals, using this bond to help patients manage the symptoms of their condition. Animals can provide a sense of calm, comfort, or safety and divert attention away from a stressful situation.

Various types of animal therapy involve different approaches and provide unique benefits. Depending on the nature of your therapy and the type of animal involved, you may keep a dog, cat, or other pet with you throughout the day for emotional support. You might learn to ride and care for a therapy horse in your treatment program.

Service Dogs 

Service dogs, which are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, are not typically considered a traditional method of animal therapy. Most people with service dogs require assistance from the animal to engage in normal daily functions.

However, studies have shown that service dogs positively impact an individual’s mental health, not just physical health. Service dogs can be trained to help their owner in ways that go beyond medical assistance. In these cases, they are considered psychiatric service dogs, as their training is tailored to help their owner manage psychiatric conditions.

Traditional service dogs are most often used to assist in a medical crisis. For individuals with disabilities, service dogs can be trained to retrieve medications, beverages to swallow them with, and phones to call for help. They can even bark for help, answer a doorbell, and open doors.

Individuals with mental health conditions can also benefit from these specially-trained dogs. Psychiatric service dogs can perform specific tasks that soothe the harmful effects of the person’s mental illness and help them cope with emotional overload. They can prevent others from crowding their owner or provide comfort to calm them down.

Service dogs can also remind their owner to take medications at a specific time, which can help individuals stabilize their mood. These animals can also be trained to determine if their owner’s judgment capacity is diminished (such as during a manic episode) and can prompt them to remove themselves from risky situations.

Emotional Support Animals

Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals have no formal training. Instead, these animals offer comfort and emotional stability to help their owners deal with mental health struggles. Their natural ability to provide unconditional support is beneficial to individuals who have mental illness.

With their presence, emotional support animals can help alleviate stress and anxiety and promote a sense of calm and security. These animals offer companionship and enhance the effectiveness of overall treatment plans, providing a unique and powerful form of support that extends beyond traditional therapeutic interventions.

Dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals, although other animals can also qualify for this role–including rabbits, birds, and miniature horses. As these animals don’t require specific training, the only qualification an animal needs for emotional support is a prescription from a licensed mental health professional.

If you have a disabling mental illness, a psychologist or other mental health expert may determine that the presence of an animal may benefit your mental health. You can also receive your prescription for an emotional support animal online by taking a short survey. 

This application is then reviewed by a licensed mental health professional who will send the prescription if you meet the qualifications. Emotional support animals also differ from service dogs since, in most situations, these animals are not permitted in public places like restaurants or grocery stores. However, they can live in housing that otherwise might not accept pets.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is becoming a common addition to many mental health treatment programs due to its ability to help people manage severe psychiatric conditions or substance use disorders. Horses are compassionate creatures that respond to people’s energy, encouraging a calm environment as individuals seek to elicit a positive response.

Being around a horse can cause joy, enhance self-awareness, and foster an emotional openness that leaves you more receptive to learning and growth. Unlike smaller therapy animals, horses have a magnified calming effect due to their size and empathy.

Horses are known for attuning themselves to human emotion and reflecting the behaviors of those around them. Equine therapy can help individuals build confidence, learn how to take control, and address underlying fears. 

Equine therapy involves grooming, feeding, and leading a horse while supervised by a mental health professional. Horseback riding is not typically a part of this process, although it also offers therapeutic benefits. Specific treatment programs include horseback riding as an additional option.

Bipolar bonding through Animal therapy

How Animal Therapy Helps Manage Bipolar Disorder

There are many ways in which animal therapy can help individuals manage their psychiatric conditions and improve overall health. The presence of animals can slow people’s heart rates, which helps prevent heart disease, increase levels of anti-stress chemicals, and activate dopamine.

Animal therapy helps patients feel less isolated, as they receive connection and support from a being that provides only love and not judgment. Though animal therapy can help patients work through many different struggles, patients with bipolar disorder can specifically benefit from this form of treatment.

Support Through Different Bipolar Phases

During a hypomanic phase, an individual may experience periods of over-activeness and increased excitability. This phase is typically mild and lasts a few days, though it can cause the individual to feel disconnected from the world. Animal therapy can help them feel grounded and bring back their lost focus.

A depression phase follows the hypomanic phase. During this time, an individual can experience detachment from their loved ones. In those times, connection with animals can offer support that other people cannot provide.

A manic phase is more severe than hypomania and may last a few weeks. When an individual with bipolar disorder goes through this phase, their daily activities may be severely impacted. Severe cases may require hospitalization, as individuals can experience hallucinations, delusions, and even seizures.

During the manic phase, an individual may be more talkative than usual or discuss unrealistic things. Animals can help by being patient listeners who offer no judgment to the individual. The animal’s presence can also help them feel grounded and distract them from hallucinations and delusions.

Psychological Benefits

Animal therapy can positively affect an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. Connection with animals helps people with bipolar disorder deal with and manage many of their symptoms through the benefits it offers.

Normalizing Brain Chemistry 

Petting an animal can cause a spike in an individual’s serotonin level, which is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target to increase. The consistent presence of an animal can alter the brain’s biochemistry and regulate these neurotransmitters.

Release of Neurochemicals 

When people interact with animals, they are releasing positive neurochemicals. They double the blood levels of oxytocin, which slows heart rate and creates a sense of calm. It can also boost beta-endorphins, a natural painkiller, and dopamine, the reward hormone.

Improved Mood 

Animal therapy can help patients with psychiatric conditions by decreasing depressive symptoms and creating an overall improvement of goodwill in their lives. Patients who participate in animal therapy report improved perception of quality of life and better cognitive functioning.

Stress Relief 

The presence of animals is very relaxing to most individuals. While petting a cat or a dog can help people calm down, this also extends to other animals. Watching fish tanks decreases stress hormones, and small animals such as birds or guinea pigs can also relieve stress.

Sense of Comfort 

People receive comfort and emotional support from positive, nonjudgmental companions. Unconditional love from an animal offers individuals a safe space where they don’t have to worry about feeling stigmatized for their issues.

Emotional Health

Pet owners have higher self-esteem, are more extroverted, less lonely, and less fearful of everyday challenges. The compassion extends to people who engage in frequent interactions with animals. Animals naturally attract people, which helps individuals engage in social situations and manage the lows of bipolar disorder.

Start Bipolar Disorder Treatment

At The Summit Wellness Group, we’re here to help patients overcome mental illness and substance abuse. If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder or other issues, you don’t have to go through it alone.
Fight back with innovative treatment options, such as animal-assisted therapy, that prioritize your well-being. To get started on your recovery, call our 24/7 helpline at 770-637-0579 or fill out our contact form.

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