Mental Health Practitioners Go to the Dogs

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The idea that bringing plants and animals into clinics and hospitals can make patients happier and healthier is gaining ground in the field of mental health. Advocates of “animal-assisted” therapy say contact with animals can help draw out severely withdrawn patients and help calm down the violent ones. There are plenty of anecdotes about the positive effects of animals on psychiatric patients, but few long term studies proving it works. Still, the number of animal-assisted therapy programs is growing. Nancy Cohen reports on a program in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, that’s sprung up without funding or staff training, but with a strong conviction that animals can help people heal.

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