Mental Monday: Animal-Assisted Therapy in War Zones


Golden Retrievers are often used for therapeutic purposes

I recently learned that a psychology team in Afghanistan brought a few therapy service dogs with them to help the troops.  There is reason to believe that these dogs will be very helpful for the troops as they help keep spirits high and ease the mental and physical stresses associated with combat.

Since World War II, animals have been commonly used in both mental and physical therapeutic settings as a way to help the healing process. From cats and dogs to horses, animals have been proven to be a wonderful way to help people recover from both mental and physical ailments. Anyone who has a companion animal or a service dog already knows that there is nothing like holding, hugging, and petting a warm, soft, and cuddly animal to help ease the mind and soothe the soul.

Animals can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety levels. They can also help combat depression and social isolation, two issues that are often comorbid with other mental or psychical health problems. Specially trained service animals have helped people in private therapeutic settings, schools, hospitals, convalescent homes, and even prisons.

The Army has begun using therapy service dogs to help war veterans combat PTSD and other mental health issues, so it makes sense that psych teams are finally bringing service dogs to those currently serving in war zones. It will be interesting to see how effective service dogs will be for our troops. They can certainly provide unconditional love and comfort in volatile situations, but will they also be able to help stave off mental health distress or the development of mental health disorders commonly associated with combat? Time will tell. But as the rate of mental health problems, PTSD, and suicide-related deaths increase among troops and veterans, let’s hope that therapy service dogs will prove to be a very useful therapeutic method within the military.

Disclaimer: I am a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern with an MA in Counseling Psychology. While I have studied and have experience counseling clients on some of the issues I will address in the Mental Monday series, nothing I write is a substitute for medical advice or psychological counseling. Please do not rely on the content of this blog for medical or mental health care purposes.