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PTSD stems from unprocessed or stuck traumatic experiences. No one treatment works for everyone. Those with PTSD may experience anything from fear, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, hypervigilance, flashbacks and insomnia. In addition to seeking professional help, you can look into the benefits of animal therapy. Animals used in therapy are horses, dogs, cats, birds and in certain parts of the country, dolphins.

Researchers have found animal therapy can help diminish some of the debilitating symptoms of PTSD. At its most basic, therapy can be as simple as holding a cat in your lap, or lying on the floor next to your dog. Animals help calm your nervous system. Calming your nervous system is key to reprogramming your brain from a rotary with no exits to one with offramps. Your symptoms can dissipate.

In equine assisted therapy, horses are your teachers. They are very perceptive and mirror a person’s symptoms. If something startles a horse he will either go into fight or flight mode. You may overreact to any number of situations depending upon your traumatic experience. You overreact because your normal response mechanisms have been absconded or damaged by the traumatic event. Similar to a spooked horse, you could become angry—fight, or take off somewhere—flight.

Being with a horse that spooks or a dog trembling in a thunderstorm, can cause a positive reaction from you as you try to calm him down. By taking charge of an animal’s safety, a person with PTSD has to get outside themselves in order to help a more vulnerable being. Taking charge helps redirect the brain to respond in a less reactive manner. It also boosts confidence.

Dogs have been known to detect cancer and to tell when someone is having a heart attack. Dogs have also been trained to help with hypervigilance. The dog simply nudges a leg with its nose when it senses a person’s heightened tension. Overtime, the dog’s constant response to hypervigilance can help change the human’s reaction. Gradually, a slamming door, can be just a slamming door.

Animals are great connectors. If your heart is frozen with fear, isolation and loneliness, you may benefit from an animal therapy group that specializes in PTSD. Working with animal assistance organizations can promote newfound and lasting friendships. The animals of course are the icebreakers. They have the power to reconnect you with yourself. They have the gift of unconditional love.