One of the challenges we face as counselors when treating young adults suffering from addiction, disabilities or emotional trauma is getting them to engage in the therapy. They are often withdrawn or simply going through the motions thinking they are telling us what we want to hear. Some typically feel no one can understand their feelings. Sadly, they are often correct.
Identifying with teens in need is not the most difficult part of therapy, but understanding why they cannot let go of their addiction, feelings of alienation or emotional pain. The facilitation of animals in therapy is an innovative way in which we seek to bridge that gap. Animals do not need to identify but instinctively understand how we are feeling in a way we cannot even among ourselves. But facilitating animals, especially endangered species, as a means of therapy can be controversial.
Wolf therapy is an animal/therapy technique that utilizes specially trained wolf-dogs as a means to get teens to open up and engage in therapy. It is still therapeutic for the patient, but not especially therapeutic for the animal. Wolves are not cuddly, adorable people-friendly creatures. They are predatory pack animals and also endangered. Wolves and dogs have been cross bred for centuries to remove their natural instincts to serve as domestic companions for man. However, man no longer requires the wolf for survival based breeding. And the indigenous wolf populations are decreasing in the their natural habitat yearly. Do we have the right to make use of this majestic and endangered creature in ways they are not suited?
Dolphins are highly intelligent and inquisitive creatures. They are also known to be keenly aware of feelings even across species such as in humans. They are highly social creatures and capable of developing strong bonds even with humans. For this reason, dolphins are often facilitated in therapy techniques to ease patients out of their shell and engage in therapy. Again, the issue of keeping any aquatic mammal in captivity remains a highly debated topic. Dolphins and killer whales are not domestic animals and have been known to grieve and experience depression in captivity. Is it fair for us to use them in therapy at the expense of the animal’s emotional well being?
In our efforts to find new ways to reach those patients who require therapy on an emotional level, we may be inadvertently doing more harm to than good. Of course we should do everything in our power to help our patients in need of therapy. But perhaps we should consider if we really require endangered species to help us in our efforts.