The most original thing I did this year was to sign up for a training course in animal-assisted therapy.
Few people know this, but Italy has become the only European country with specific legislation regulating pet therapy for the past seven years.
To be authorised to carry out this type of treatment, it is necessary to have a degree in medicine or psychology and to have completed a two-year training course, at the end of which one is entered in a national register of all certified specialists authorised to administer animal-mediated therapies.
I have always lived surrounded by animals (primarily dogs) and have always wanted to undertake training in this regard.
In my experience, the relationship with animals has a powerful therapeutic effect that is particularly evident in patients with emotional developmental disorders and most psychiatric disorders. It’s no secret that pets can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise, and improve overall health. People with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease.
A dog’s companionship is a powerful way to combat loneliness and isolation, bringing comfort while reducing stress and promoting overall health and wellness. Especially for seniors with dementia, they can genuinely benefit tremendously on the mental, emotional and physical front from therapy with an animal.
At the neurophysiological level, during pet therapy activity, there is a reduction in plasma levels of cortisol (‘stress hormone’) and an increase in hormones linked to positive emotions (endorphins and dopamine), sociability and trust (oxytocin).
The main limitation of animal-assisted interventions paradoxically lies in the fact that most colleagues are unaware of their existence and, therefore, rarely prescribe them, even in those cases where they could be a beneficial supplement to the most common psychotherapies and traditional pharmacological therapies.
Thanks to the training course I have started, by the end of 2024, I will be an animal-assisted therapy project manager, and this will allow me to add a new strategy to my clinical skills with more significant benefits for my patients.