In continuing efforts to help the overwhelming number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the US Army is using therapy dogs. In a panel discussion at the annual convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Col. Elspeth Ritchie, MD, the Army Surgeon General’s special assistant for mental health, said that dogs are being used “much more [frequently]” to help soldiers recover from the devastating effects of PTSD.
Animal-assisted activities have been instrumental in helping people with all sorts of disabilities, and their utility has widened to include soldiers with mental illness. In light of many studies, including several published in the Journal of Military Medicine, the number of veterans with PTSD is growing and the suicide rate is on the rise. Yesterday Col. Ritchie confirmed the Army is using therapy dogs to help soldiers with PTSD.
The Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS) is one program that has worked with the Army and other government agencies. PSDS provides information to those who wish to train a service dog to help manage symptoms of mental illness. Currently, PSDS has a Department of Defense-funded research study on the efficacy of owner-trained psychiatric service dogs for recently returned soldiers with PTSD. The pilot study is due to be implemented at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Photo: Craig Love, PhD; Joan Esnayra, PhD, President of PSDS; psychiatric service dogs are Kenji (foreground) and Rainbow (background)
Details available at:
Psychiatric Service Dog Society: www.psychdog.org
Journal of Military Medicine study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20572470
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