How is canis therapy used in crisis intervention

The fact that our mental well-being benefits from the presence of animals - namely dogs - has been mentioned here several times. Canis therapy is a highly effective therapeutic process where, to a certain degree, a dog interacts with a patient or someone in need of relief from mental or physical pain. Canis therapy can also be used in crisis intervention. We've discussed this relatively specific topic with the social therapist, zootherapist and an animal coach in social services Andrea Tvrdá. 

Canis therapy can be used in various types of therapy. How often is it used in crisis intervention?

By clarifying what crisis intervention (CI) actually is and what it is used for, we find out that there are many opportunities for its use. In short, it is an intervention with a person who is in a mental or even psychosomatic discomfort or distress (the term psychosomatic load is also used) and is aimed at an acute difficult situation - here and now. We are therefore not trying to solve a psychological discomfort caused by grievances from twenty years ago. Such a person can be based wherever - for example in a residential social service facility such as a home for the elderly, in a hospital, at home or even at school. 

What sort of discomfort or a situation are we talking about?

They can be sudden, sad events in life, such as the death of a roommate in a nursing home, the death of a fellow patient in the hospital, trying to cope with very bad news about one's own health (bad blood-test results with fatal consequences), bad news about our loved ones, traumatizing personal life events (divorce, existential crisis), which can also affect a doctor, a carer or a teacher. This, therefore, does not only apply to patients or those placed in residential facilities, but also to the staff who care for those in need of such services. 
So if a canis therapist is also trained in CI, there can be many opportunities for including an animal in this type of support. 
How exactly does this crisis intervention with the help of a therapy dog work?

It is similar to CI without a dog; CI has set clear rules (methodology). Because it is a specialised field, it is important to get trained. Combining canis therapy with CI offers further possibilities within the standard procedure. With this form of intervention, the presence of a dog significantly accelerates the forming of a therapeutic relationship between the canis therapist and the client. Ci is different by the sensitivity of the topics, by the emotional load and the intimacy of personal information shared face-to-face, therefore the trust between the client and the therapist is crucial. An experienced therapist also knows that it is an area highly sensitive to unprofessional intervention and that help can turn into harm. The therapist therefore usually offers the animal for the intervention but continues to follow the standard CI procedures. The animal can make the naming of difficult topics easier or it can become the means for reaching the next phase in the intervention as well as to end the intervention.
Is it a one-time intervention or do you visit the acute cases regularly?

This is assessed by the canis therapist and it depends on how the crisis situation is perceived by the client. The depth of experiencing discomfort is purely subjective. Some people can lose their house in a fire and mentally deal with this trauma relatively well and quickly, whereas others can have fifteen centimetres of flood water in their garage and perceive this event very strongly and for a relatively long time. No one can predict the length of mourning or the level of poor mental state and therefore no one should judge how long others take to recover from trauma. Sometimes it requires one session, with others we meet four or five times before the imaginary spiral around the core of the person's trauma uncoils and we can start looking together at how life is going to go from there.
Can anyone contact you or do you co-operate with crisis centres?

Anyone from within our region can contact us (Liberec Region, editor's note).
What sort of acute conditions can they be? And how do people in these conditions react to dogs?

As I've already mentioned, it can be the death of a loved one, poor state of health of a loved one or of the client. It's suddenly gotten worse, they've had an accident or have received news of a loved one's accident. Or they've been affected by a great negative life change, such as infidelity, divorce, drug use by an offspring, loss of employment, bankruptcy of their own company, one becomes a victim of violence or other criminal activity, etc.
People usually react by trusting quicker and telling their story, and it is often the eye contact with the dog that makes it easier for them. When crying, they often choose to hug the animal or at least stroke it.
What does the dog do in these acute conditions?

The majority of dogs I have seen during this work are calm, static. On the outside, they are only playing a passive role.
How widespread is such intervention here in the Czech Republic and worldwide?

For example, in Liberec Regional Hospital it has been running for eighteen years, and also in other establishments where the zoo therapists from our ELVA HELP organisation are stationed. In the Czech Republic, the organisation officially started its services in 2009, when we introduced this methodology to the rescue system representatives as a form of our help, e.g. in evacuation centres where there are people who have just experienced trauma from floods, house fire, gas leaks, etc. In ELVA HELP, we educate our employees in zoo therapy but also require accredited education in crisis intervention.
Abroad, canis therapy in CI came to the forefront after the "fall of the twins" on 11 September 2001, when the local organisation AACR (Animal-Assisted Crisis Response) started working with people looking for survivors, those removing the remains of the victims and family members from the ruins. They listened to them, talked to them and calmed them down. In Warsaw, Poland, between the years 2008 and 2012, there was a group of trained canis therapists available at the huge main airport for the psychological comfort of passengers in case of delayed departures which were a cause for strong frustration and fear.
Is there a demand for these dog therapists in crisis intervention?

They are in high demand in places, where people have come into contact with these services and are aware of the importance of CI - mainly in hospitals.

Can you see an increase in demand for dog therapists in the past year, with regards to the pandemic?

Yes, there has definitely been an increase in mental health issues in otherwise stable individuals and also the development of forms of panic attacks and self-harm in adolescents and children. This increase can, undoubtedly, be attributed to the events surrounding the Covid pandemic.

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