(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Department of Defense is using therapy dogs to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) they may have developed while fighting overseas.

As The Atlantic reports, the initiative is through the Defense Department’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence. With the support of the Pentagon, almost 100 troops have been able to go through the program’s unique combination of therapy and d0g training: the dogs rotate among the patients, whose job it is to train them to become service dogs. Once the rotation is complete, 20 veterans have gone through treatment, and a successful service dog has also emerged out of the process.

As animal-assisted therapy continues to gain popularity and support, Meg Olmert, director of research at the veterans’ therapy outfit Warrior Canine Connection, told The Atlantic this method is so successful because, as studies have shown, spending time with animals sets off the hormone oxytocin.

“Oxytocin replaces fight-flight with a brain and body chemistry of calm-connect,” she said. “Dogs also release this same brain chemistry in humans. It is not just in your head that you think your dog is family.”

Source: The Atlantic

For more information about animal-assisted therapy, visit the ACA Animal Assisted Therapy In Mental Health Interest Network or read the August 2011 Counseling Today article “Counselor’s best friend.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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