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Citizens Commission on Human Rights Award Recipient (Twice)
Humanist, humorist

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Good Dog Shrink

Anytime someone offers an alternative to psychiatric medication always leaves me wondering if the product being offered is more about someone's concerns about making a fast buck opposed to really wanting to help patients suffering with depression ~ That was a big sentence without any comma's - hopefully you've now caught your breath - something that I did after reading a fascinating article in Psychology Today, an online publication for professionals and members of the public.

The article in question comes from David Sack M.D. who is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine.

The usual range of emotions were felt when learning that the article was penned by someone in the field of psychiatry, let's face it, that particular field is based around guess work and, at times, utter lunacy.

This was refreshing and, at the same time, thought provoking. In fact I'm glad it was authored by a member of the psychiatric field because it shows that they are not all egotistical pill-pushing psychopaths.

Sack's article, Nature’s Antidepressant: The Dog, is probably the best piece of commentary I've read this year. It's not overly long, easily understandable and, more importantly, something that has been staring the psychiatric community in the face for years - something that they have missed or, as I suspect, totally ignored.

The question Sack throws out is whether or not dogs can lower or change people's moods and he cites a study from 1996 (A long-term study of elderly people in nursing homes with visiting and resident dogs)

Of course, Sack, like any other psychiatrist, would never suggest that using dog therapy was much better than using drug therapy - I don't think anyone in the medical profession would suggest that but, there are many who have suffered the side effects of medication that would.

Sack breaks the study down - It was, he writes, "an analysis of close to 70 animal studies" that found...

  • In nursing homes with a live-in or visiting dog, depression decreased significantly among the elderly residents.
  • Even after just one therapy session with a dog, children with psychiatric disorders showed better mood balance.
  • Long-term care patients allowed to interact with dogs reported less loneliness. And the more one-on-one time the person had with the animal, the greater the effect.
  • Dogs act as “social catalysts.” Their presence in a group was found to increase smiles, conversation and spirit-lifting interactions.

Contrast the above with images you may have seen of elderly residents slumped in chairs and dribbling at the mouth because they have been stuffed full of mind altering drugs - Interestingly the pooled studies also show that dog therapy can help children after just one session - sounds better than the risks associated with antidepressants that are used on a daily basis on children, huh?

Sack goes deeper into the study and tells us it works because of something called oxytocin, don't worry it's not a pharmaceutical drug.

Oxytocin is a chemical also known as the 'love hormone'.

Sack writes...
It’s most commonly associated with childbirth and breastfeeding, and its release is believed to play a crucial role in facilitating the formation of emotional bonds. Turns out it’s also released when dogs and people interact. A recent study found that when dogs and human gaze into each other’s eyes, oxytocin levels rise in both.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog will know just how they can lift our spirits. We have taken it for granted that they are our very own antidepressant. My own experience of my own dog and looking after others is that they are, and have been, much better company than some humans I know. I mean, walking with a dog or walking with a pharmaceutical rep? It's a no-brainer, right? Allowing a dog on your lap or allowing a pharmaceutical CEO on your lap. Now I think about it some dogs have been better kissers than many of my ex girlfriends!

So, here's an idea.

Next time your child is offered a course of mind altering drugs that will strip away his or her empathy then consider a visit to a dog's home - watch your child change in an instant as pups and adult dogs respond.

Children do not need masses of drugs, they need masses of love and a dog will provide that love. A dog's love for it's owner and members of the family is unconditional. You will never find any love that comes anywhere near as close to that shown by a dog.

If visiting a dog's home persuades you to buy a dog then do so. You may just be saving two lives - that of your child (minus psychiatric medication) and that of the dog who, at the end of the day, just wants a family to love.

Introduce a dog to a child and watch that child's eyes sparkle with excitement. Introduce that same child to a powerful antidepressant and watch that sparkle disappear.

I have added this article of Sack's to my favourite list - it really is a simple yet brilliant overlooked idea.

For this, I salute a psychiatrist... and no, I haven't been sniffing bleach!

Bob Fiddaman

**Photo - Benn - My cross Boxer/Ridgeback. Sadly, no longer with us.

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