The Environment and Mental Health: A Guide for Clinicians

By Ante Lundberg | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Animal-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Disruptive Behavior Disorders in Children

Aaron Katcher University of Pennsylvania Devereux Foundation, Villanova, Pennsylvania

Gregory G. Wilkins William Penn School District, Darby, Pennsylvania

At a time when the largest European cities could fit into a modern shopping mall, poets recommended retreat to the countryside as a cure for the psychological ills induced by urban living. Hesiod Works and Days, written around 700 BC, offers the placid, ordered life of the farm as a cure for the stress of a life in the city ( Evelyn-White, 1950). Since Hesiod's day, retreat to the country has been the perennially suggested remedy for the malaise of city life ( Williams, 1973). The Arcadian myth, viable even today, holds that at some time in the past, life in the country had an almost Elysian beauty and that farmers and herdsmen enjoyed a life of health and tranquillity unknown today ( Harrison, 1992; Rousseau, 1947). The myths contain some shrewd clinical observations: Until this century, death rates were always higher in the cities than in the country ( Davis, 1965). They fueled the Quaker reform of English mental institutions with their prescription of rural residence, solitary activity, and farm work. Even in the present century, mental hospitals, prisons, and reform schools were frequently built in association with working farms that were abandoned only in the 1970s. The reasons were numerous and complex: Passage of peonage laws made employment of inmates difficult, the number of farmingjobs declined, the need for hospital beds decreased, and the powerful effects of new medications obscured subtler environmental influences ( Morrison, 1992). Unfortunately, the use of farm work and animal contact as treatment was abandoned before it could be evaluated.

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