The other day, I was watching my toddler grandson with his dog. Toddlers naturally tumble when they get ahead of themselves, as do dogs with short legs. As if in sync, my grandson and his dog began to run, tumble, get up and go again. They even have their own language. After a little bit, both wore themselves out. The dog was panting and the child sat down to rest. Soon, the dog nuzzled up to my grandson easing into a cozy snuggle.

Thinking back about this, I recall a time where I instinctively brought a dog home for my family. My son, a toddler at the time, needed extra comfort. He needed more than what my loving arms could provide. You see, our family had survived a terribly violent and frightening time. It was all we could do to get through the day. I felt lost and scared in how to help my son. There were few resources for survivors of violence back in those days. Research and resources for helping war veterans was in the beginning stages. But for the general population, few understood the short and long-term implications of trauma. Turns out … getting a dog for my son was one of the most valuable healing tools. Thank goodness for motherly instincts. Luckily, years later, we found great therapists, too!

Unlike years ago, nowadays, we see many people utilizing animals for support. The mental health field recognizes the invaluable benefits of animal companionship: 

  • A sense of safety, comfort, happiness and confidence. 
  • Decreased feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness.
  • Having an emotional support dog for just one week reduced trauma symptoms by 82%.* 

Am I saying everyone should rush out and get an animal? Well … maybe. But seriously, no, I am not. 

What I am suggesting, however, is that there is a lot to be said about people feeling safe and supported. For trauma survivors, feeling safe may seem nearly unreachable. This is because when our miraculous brain and body perceives a situation as dangerous, it will do whatever is necessary to survive. With trauma survivors, these automatic survival mechanisms work until they don’t. Overuse confuses our brains about what is safe and what is dangerous. 

We now understand that unless and until trauma survivors work through the fragments of their disturbing experiences, their nervous system will be in overdrive. This looks and feels like extreme worry, guilt, anger, disturbed sleep, negative thoughts, hopelessness, sadness, and numbness. 

Animals are one way to calm our nerves while working through the distress. Another way is to reach out to a trained trauma counselor. When a counselor understands trauma at a neurobiological level and trauma’s implications on emotional well being and relationships, the counselor is well-equipped to help. They provide a range of calming techniques and guidance to get your brain/body back on a safe track. 

If you have experienced trauma or can relate to the feelings of overdrive, schedule an appointment with Kaizen Center today. Or find yourself a loving dog. Either way, I hope for much peace and healing along your journey!  

Korilynn C. Bartley


*Source: Debra Mims & Rhondda Waddell (2016) Animal Assisted Therapy and Trauma Survivors, Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 13:5, 452-457, DOI: 10.1080/23761407.2016.1166841