How the human-animal bond complements treatment for veterans

Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend, but for some military veterans, these four-legged accomplices also take on the role of therapist and confidant in the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When combined with traditional, evidence-based interventions, the human-animal bond has proven to be an effective, complementary treatment for PTSD, with positive impacts for veterans—and dogs, too.

Person in wheelchair pets a service dog sitting in the grass next to them.

Leah Blain, clinic director and licensed clinical psychologist at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in the department of Psychiatry, treats a number of patients who struggle with PTSD.

“At the Cohen Clinic, creating access to care really drives the mission of what we do each day,” Blain says. “We know that 30% of service members and veterans returning from deployment meet the criteria for a mental health condition, but only half of this group receive care. These are treatable conditions, and the faster we get ahead of them, the less they become entrenched.”

Although the Cohen Clinic does not directly provide animal assisted therapy, it does strive to create a tailored, individualized treatment plan for all patients—and that treatment plan sometimes includes animal support.

“Our treatment plans are really driven by preference,” Blain says. “In addition to an evidence-based treatment such as cogitative processing therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, we aim to integrate whatever each person is oriented toward into their treatment plan. People are really aware of the power of animals, so I’ve had several patients come in and ask us to connect them with an organization that provides animal assisted therapy or service animals.”

The Cohen Clinic has a number of partnerships that enable its providers to connect patients with animal-assisted therapies, when appropriate.

This story is by Nicole Fullerton. Read more at Penn Medicine News.