Academic journal article College Student Journal

A Doggone Way to Reduce Stress: An Animal Assisted Intervention with College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

A Doggone Way to Reduce Stress: An Animal Assisted Intervention with College Students

Article excerpt

The presence of animal-assisted interventions on college campuses has been a prevalent topic of discussion and a growing area of research in the past few years. Animal companionship in the most basic form has been a source of comfort and attachment for humans for decades. Research shows that the presence of animals causes changes in psychological and physiological states in the body including increased positive affect, lowered anxiety and depression, fewer feelings of loneliness, stress reduction, and a decrease in blood pressure (Aydin, Fischer, Fischer, Frey, Hahn, Kastenmuller, & Krueger, 2012). Essentially, people are happier and healthier when in the presence of animals. This article describes a therapy dog outreach program that was implemented to gauge (a) the degree of stress relief and decreased homesickness students experience after their visit with therapy dogs, and (b) student awareness of counseling services on campus.

College students seem to be struggling with a number of serious issues. The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors' Annual Survey (Reetz, Krylowicz, Bershad, Lawrence, & Mistier, 2016) lists students' top presenting concerns as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, suicidal ideation, self-injury, and alcohol abuse. On average, 26.1% of students seeking services report taking psychotropic medica tions (Reetz et al., 2016). Many students have been preparing for the workload that college brings for their entire academic career. However, very few students anticipate the feelings of loneliness and separation that they experience from being away from home. A decrease in emotional and mental health can subsequently lead to decreases in academic performance (Black, 2012). To combat these changes, students are encouraged to reach out to campus resources, such as counseling services, to help them cope and better manage their everyday struggles. There are a growing number of students on college campuses with mental health problems and college counsel ing services are reporting significant increases in student appointments, severity of mental health problems, and student crises (Gallagher, 2015). As a result, outreach programs have become increasingly important to reach larger groups of students, break down the stigma related to accessing mental health care, and provide interventions for students who may not seek help.

One intervention for managing college stu dent stress is Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) which is a broad term that encompasses Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), and Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT refers to the use of animals for therapy while incorporating specific goals, and strategies in place for the client that leads to more adaptive outcomes. This structured intervention is used by professionals with a clear treatment plan, specified lengths of time for visits, and predetermined number of sessions at the forefront of the therapy. AAT has clear objectives and progress is measured throughout the intervention. This intervention encompasses species such as termites, fish, dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, or other animals that can help increase physical, social, emotional, or cognitive functioning (Urbanik & Vitztum, 2016). On the other hand, AAA is described as informal group activities with little direction and assistance from the provider. These services are administered by trained professionals and accompanying volunteer associates. These activities typically include brief meet-and-greet sessions where animals spend some time with specialized populations including sick children, geriatric patients, and college students. Normally, these activities are not implemented with certain treatment goals in effect and the visits do not need to be formally announced (Haubenhofer & Kirchengast, 2007).

Research shows that AAT and AAA programs can reduce levels of anxiety and loneliness, and increase student's perception of their social support on campus (Change, Dispenza & Parker, 2014; Adamle, Carlon & Riley, 2009). …

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