Calgary Registered Psychologist: Emergo Counselling Services, featuring Dr Karen Massey
Dr Karen Massey Registered Psychologist
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Optional Counselling Technique using a Dog

Dr Karen Massey with therapy dog, Diva

Hope is a way of feeling, thinkinkg, behaving, and relating to oneself and to one's world.

IF you like dogs, IF you express an interest in working with a dog, and IF it can help in your change process, then a dog can be used to assist in the changes. You may find comfort and calm when you touch and are physically close to a dog. The dog also helps divert your attention temporarily onto something other than your problems.

An increasingly serious problem in this technology driven and touch less society is loneliness. Most people need to touch to feel connected with someone else. In some cases you may be uncomfortable hugging others, but stroking a dog can provide warm feelings of comfort. Dogs provide unconditional, non-judgemental love and affection. Touching and petting a dog can help elicit conversations more readily as the soothing and relaxing effects of stroking a dog become an antidote to stressful or depressive feelings. Dogs can also help you shift to feeling connected to a larger, more welcoming world.

There are numerous benefits from having dogs beside us or touching us. These benefits include developing an outward focus on life and living, physical contact, reduced stress, and self-nurturing, For details on these benefits, see the following:

Benefits of Dogs in Counselling

  • Physical Contact, Touching: It is well established that touch is very important for nourishing our mind and spirit. For some people, touch from another person is not acceptable, but the warm, furry touch of a dog can be seen as safe, non-threatening, and calming.
  • Empathy: A heightened ability to empathize with dogs may carry over into positive experiences with people.
  • Outward focus: If you have depressive symptoms, anxiety, or low self-esteem you tend to focus on yourself. Dogs can help create a focus on your environment. You can watch and talk to and about dogs and then start to broaden your thinking and feelings.
  • Nurturing: Nurturing skills can be learned through connecting with a dog. Psychologically, when you nurture a dog by petting, it also helps fulfill your need to be nurtured.
  • Rapport: Dogs can help open a channel of emotionally safe, non-threatening communication between you and your counsellor. The dog's presence may open a path so that you can feel more comfortable quickly. Feeling at ease makes it easier to talk initially, especially if you have never been to counselling before. Children are especially likely to project their feelings and experiences onto a dog.
  • Acceptance: Dogs don't care how a person looks or what they say, they accept you for the way you are. A dog's acceptance is non-judgemental, forgiving, and uncomplicated.
  • Social Connections: when a dog is being petted or hugged, these activities create action in you and a feeling of movement that can develop into feeling positive and hopeful, and even create laughter and joy. These positive feelings can then help decrease your feelings of loneliness, isolation or alienation, stress, and overall this enhances the counselling process.
  • Physiological Benefits: Tests have shown that being with a pet can cause a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces feelings of negative stress. Physiological tests have shown that stroking and petting animals can improve general health, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and produce a reduction in stress levels. We are starting to understand how stress becomes a silent killer.

Ruby, My Therapy Dog

Poem written for Emergo Counselling Website about the value of having a Therapy Dog.

By Dr. Harry V. Sims, MD, FRCP,
On-site Medical Microbiologist

When you're feeling blue
Here's what you do
Go hug the dog

When you're feeling down
Don't wear a frown
Go hug the dog

When it's pouring rain
And you're in pain
Go hug the dog

When the sky is grey
And you've lost your way
Go hug the dog

When your shares collapse
And the bills amass
Go hug the dog

And at the end of the day
Life goes on this way
Give your dog all your love
'cause she has given you all her love.

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