Dogs carve out roles in mental health sphere

Yogi is ready to lend an ear. He's part of a growing trend in medicine where more hospitals, treatment centers and nursing homes bring in resident therapy dogs to help patients.

WASHINGTON — Yogi is a dog with the power to calm and soothe a troubled soul.

He is part of a growing trend in medicine where more hospitals, treatment centers and nursing homes are bringing in resident therapy dogs to help patients.

Yogi lives and works with Gregory Jones, a psychologist in D.C. who shares his home and office with the 4-month-old corgi.

As a small puppy, Yogi was the official “greeter” at Jones’ practice, Capital Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness. But as he grew and progressed through obedience training, he spent more time in sessions with patients.

“Oftentimes, he is very grounding for people that need to talk about things that are traumatic, difficult, anxiety provoking,” Jones said.

In a way, Yogi is Jones’ warm-up act, taking away some of the initial anxiety surrounding psychotherapy, and enabling clients to lower their defenses and become more open.

“He’ll sit in the chair next to me and lay down, and he will look at the clients and the clients will just make eye contact with him,” Jones said.

He added: “I can literally see them just get calmer and relax and smile.”

Once used primarily as highly-trained service animals for those with physical disabilities, dogs now fill a variety of roles in the mental health sphere.

Therapy dogs like Yogi are chosen primarily for their demeanor and their ability to bring cheer.

Emotional support and service dogs, however, are highly trained and need certification in order to get complete access to public places, including airports and planes.

“They can be trained to sense your mood changes, when to bark to tell you to take your medication, when to notice that you are about to have seizure so you can lay down on the ground and be ready for it,” Jones explained.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the power of these incredible animals to help people with mental health concerns, ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder to anxiety.

Information on where to find the right dog and how to obtain the proper certification is available through various sources, although Jones favors the United States Dog Registry.

Jones is now advising others who want a therapy dog like Yogi, and those who feel they would benefit from an emotional support or service dog with specific skills. Jones says he is sold on their value, adding “they are phenomenal creatures.”

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