Pembroke Hospital’s Adolescent Partial Hospitalization program has added an animal-assisted therapy component to its treatment program. Run by clinician Nicole Wilson and her nine year-old lab-mix Chance, the program grew out of Wilson’s experience at Pembroke while an intern.
During that time, she wrote her Capstone on this type of therapy and adolescents’ attitudes and perceptions regarding the use of a dog in therapeutic groups. The results revealed wholly positive reactions, emotions and thoughts towards having the dog in the group. Overall, Chance’s presence increased positive mood and made them more comfortable.
Chance, who was licensed by Therapy Dogs International in December 2008, now comes to work with Wilson every day, usually attending all groups.
During group psychotherapy, Chance seems to make the clients more comfortable and willing to open up. They often feed him treats and pet him while sharing difficult experiences.
In addition to Chance attending all groups, Pembroke’s Adolescent PHP runs an Animal-Assisted Therapy group on Fridays, which actually involves Chance rather than him just attending the group. The group works on things such as one-way versus two-way communication, verbal versus non-verbal communication, teamwork and emotion regulation skills.
The PHP’s favorite group is the one where Wilson and the clients teach Chance a trick. The group members start by talking about different forms of communication and how this impacts what others perceive and then talk about who they communicate with in different ways.
From there it transitions into animals, and the clients talk about being passive versus aggressive and the use of verbal and non-verbal with animals and when, how why they use those techniques.
They have the difficult task of brainstorming three different tricks the well-trained Chance doesn’t yet know and deciding which one to teach him.
As a group they discuss what the verbal and non-vernal commands are going to be and how they will teach Chance. Each client takes turns trying to teach the trick.
Another group, based more on skill and team-building, requires the patients to build the tallest free-standing structure that dispenses a dog treat. Wilson and the group members follow up with conversation about roles in the team, communication, how to handle frustration if they feel like their ideas were not being listened to, for example.
Chance mostly works in the Adolescent PHP; however he has also spent some time on the Adult PHP and has visited a few of the inpatient units. Chance has successfully been utilized for several patients who are having a very hard time coping with stressors. No matter which unit Chance is on, patients and clients report it to be helpful.