Tag: Psychology

Service dogs

The unconditional love of dogs put to a very beneficial human use!

Yesterday while we were waiting to pay for a few food items in Winco we stopped behind a woman with a small service dog. The dog was a Dachshund and had a jacket on which were sewn badges saying that this was a service dog and not to make contact.

The woman suffered from panic attacks and strongly recommended an organisation that was called ADA. In fact it is a government organisation and ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act.

All of which makes a nice introduction to this next item that was published on The Conversation blog site.

ooOOoo

Service dogs can help veterans with PTSD – growing evidence shows they may reduce anxiety in practical ways

Training for service dogs starts very early.

By

March 26th, 2021

As many as 1 in 5 of the roughly 2.7 million Americans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD, a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening traumatic event, is a complex condition and can be hard to treat. Our lab is studying whether service dogs can help these military veterans, who may also have depression and anxiety – and run an elevated risk of death by suicide – in addition to having PTSD. 

We’ve been finding that once veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder get service dogs, they tend to feel less depressed and less anxious and miss work less frequently.

Complementing other forms of treatment

The traditional treatments for PTSD, such as talk therapy and medication, do work for many veterans. But these approaches do not alleviate the symptoms for all veterans, so a growing number of them are seeking additional help from PTSD service dogs.

The nation’s estimated 500,000 service dogs aid people experiencing a wide array of conditions that include visual or hearing impairments, psychological challenges, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

For our PTSD research, we partner with K9s For Warriors and Canine Companions for Independence, two of many nonprofits that train service dogs to work with veterans with PTSD.

There is no single breed that can help people this way. These dogs can be anything from purebred Labrador retrievers to shelter mixes.

Unlike emotional support dogs or therapy dogs, service dogs must be trained to do specific tasks – in this case, helping alleviate PTSD symptoms. In keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed in public places where other dogs are not.

Reducing anxiety

Service dogs can help vets with PTSD in many ways. The most common tasks include helping veterans remain calm and interrupting their anxiety. The veterans said they are asking their dogs to calm or comfort them from anxiety five times per day and that their dogs independently interrupted their anxiety three times per day on average.

For example, a dog may “cover” a veteran at a supermarket, allowing its owner to calmly turn to take something off the shelf, because veterans with PTSD can get startled if they don’t know if someone is approaching and benefit if their dogs signal that this is happening. If a veteran starts to have a panic attack, a service dog can nudge its owner to “alert” and interrupt the anxiety. At that point, the veteran can focus on petting the dog to re-center on the present – ideally preventing or minimizing the panic attack.

Service dogs can help veterans with PTSD relax when they’re shopping for groceries, a common trigger for their symptoms of this condition. Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Service dogs can help veterans with PTSD relax when they’re shopping for groceries, a common trigger for their symptoms of this condition. Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Aside from the tasks that their dogs are trained to do, veterans also shared that the love and companionship they get from simply being with their dogs is helping make their PTSD easier to manage.

Once veterans got service dogs, they described themselves in surveys as more satisfied with their lives, said they felt a greater sense of well-being and deemed themselves as having better relationships with friends and loved ones.

We have also measured levels of cortisol, commonly called the “stress hormone,” in veterans with service dogs. We found they had patterns closer to adults without PTSD.

Challenges and extra responsibilities

Not all veterans are willing or able to benefit from having their own service dogs.

Being accompanied by dogs in public can draw attention to the veterans. Some veterans appreciate this attention and the way it encourages them to get out of their shell, while others dread having to avoid well-meaning, dog-loving strangers. We’ve found that veterans do not expect this challenge, but often experience it.

Service dogs can also make it harder to travel, since bringing a dog along can require more planning and effort, especially because many people don’t understand the legal rights of people with service dogs and may ask inappropriate questions or create barriers that they aren’t legally allowed to do. Many experts believe educating the public about service dogs could alleviate these challenges.

What’s more, feeding, walking, grooming and otherwise taking care of a dog also entails additional responsibilities, including making sure they see a veterinarian from time to time.

There can also be a new sense of stigma that goes along with making a disability that might otherwise be hidden readily apparent. Someone who has PTSD might not stick out until they get a service dog that is always present.

Most veterans say it’s worth it because the benefits tend to outweigh the challenges, especially when appropriate expectations are set. Clinicians can play a role in helping veterans realize in advance what caring for the animal entails, to make the intervention positive for both the veterans and the dogs.

We are now completing the first registered clinical trial comparing what happens when these veterans get the usual PTSD interventions with what happens when they get that same treatment in addition to a trained service dog.

As our research proceeds, we are trying to see how the effects of a service dog last over time, how the service dogs affect veterans’ families and how we can support the partnership between veterans and their service dogs.

ooOOoo

I am still struggling with WordPress. For example I haven’t yet worked out how to place the credit for the photograph underneath the picture. (It did it all on its own!) And there doesn’t seem to be a ‘blockquote’ command.

But coming back to the article it was a perfect description of the way that dogs are so, so good to us humans whether we have a medical need for a service dog or not.

Inward thoughts.

Reflections on being gentle to yourself.

There are three reasons why I wrote this post. A post that runs across today and tomorrow.

Firstly, this post is inspired by love! The supreme love that I receive from my darling Jeannie and the love that I sense practically twenty-four hours a day that flows from the beautiful dogs that we have here. But also from the wonders of the rural world in which I live. From sights like the one below to being visited by wild deer every single morning when I go out to feed the horses.

The view from our bedroom window any cloudless morning. (This photo taken October 18th, 2015.)

The second reason for writing this post is a direct result of the love that flows in from so, so many of you precious readers. You are like one big online family that I live in. And, as one hopes to do within a family, from time to time you want to open up your inner feelings.

The third and final reason for this post is wanting to explore how one might find some peace from the chaos that seems to be spread so far and wide across this planet that we all call home.

It’s a very personal journey and I suggest that if this is not your ‘cup of tea’ that you call back another day!

OK! Now that’s off my chest, here we go!

Life’s beauty is inseparable from it’s fragility.

Pause awhile and just let those words float around your mind.

It is a quotation taken from a TED Talk that Jean and I watched a few days ago.

The speaker is Susan David and is described on that TED Talk page as follows:

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility. A talk to share.
This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

If you want to watch the talk it is a little over 16 minutes long and may be viewed on the TED Talk site here.

Let me return to that quotation. For there is no question that life, at whatever scale, from the personal to the global, is fragile. Fragile with a capital “F“!

Whether it’s the madness of our politics and governments, or nature presenting us with extreme hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, or the frustrations of life itself, especially when one is the wrong side of 65, or numerous other aspects of being human it’s terribly easy to become frustrated, or worse, with oneself.  I speak from a very personal perspective as my short-term recall is now pathetic!

STOP! (You see, I wrote the word “pathetic” without thinking. Demonstrating how  quickly I come down on myself. Without automatically and unconsciously being gentle on myself and being very grateful that this old Brit, born in 1944, is still able to string a few words together!)

One of the great, possibly the greatest, things that we can learn from our dogs is to be gentle on ourselves. So very often our dogs take time out to relax, to be happy and to spread their joy around the home. Look at the following photograph!

Oliver demonstrating the art of being very gentle on himself and on Pedi. (Picture taken November, 2015.)

Being gentle on yourself!

But for us humans that seems a great deal more easier to say than to practice!

Yet the argument for being gentle to yourself is compelling. And the first step in that personal journey towards being kinder to yourself is to be better aware of oneself when it comes to our emotions.

I shall be continuing this inward journey tomorrow but today, holding on to that idea of how we manage our emotions, I want to close with another TED Talk. Just 18 minutes long but invaluable to watch.

The talk is given by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD who is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University,and has positions in psychiatry and radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

As I was reading the draft of this post it did cross my mind that you do know I write from a purely personal perspective. I hold no qualifications whatsoever in the fields of psychiatry, psychology or any related disciplines. If you have found yourself to be affected to the point where you think you need proper counselling then, please, do seek help.

Part Two coming along tomorrow!

Random Notes 2.

More reflections for this Saturday.

Some of you may remember that this ‘series’ started on the 24th with the first of John H.’s delightful collection of humour and reflective thoughts.  Here’s number two!  Have a great week-end.

Tsunami” wasn’t a common word in the 1950’s.

Imagination energizes creativity

We live within natural rhythms.

Collective insanity is destructive in proportion to species growth.

The struggle is not between good and evil

It’s between self and Self.

Who am I?

An intriguing examination of how we build our sense of self.

Note: This article goes back to 2007, part of a programme that I was involved in back then.  However, re-reading the article shows it to be timeless, so trust you find it interesting.  There is a fascinating test, still online, details provided at the end of the article – but if you can’t wait, it’s here.

Finding the self.

What is Self?

Edited by Fiona Kerr from original text by Dorothy Miell

So what is self and how do we study its development? As we grow older we become aware of differences between ourselves and others, for example: what I look like; my gender; what makes me happy or sad. A sense of self is not achieved in a single step; we don’t emerge from our mother’s womb as fully formed adults. As our bodies grow and change we also learn more and more about ourselves. How we describe ourselves to others changes as we get older. This process is not necessarily constant – some aspects of self may stay the same for many years, others may change rapidly.

There may also be big differences to how you feel and how you want others to think you are. This may colour your choices in self-description.

A sense of self is also a cultural construction – in some societies individual uniqueness and self-expression is seen as vulgar and uncivilised. In Open2.net’s “Who Am I?” test we will be examining self in a Western sense, the gradual formation of becoming a self-aware individual. We’ll be grouping the results in age groups, so you can see how the self-descriptions change as people get older. Although self development is most significant in childhood, we’ve decided to keep the results going to see how things change into adulthood (if at all!).

I exist!

A child’s first step to self-understanding is the recognition that she or he exists. As an infant explores the world and interacts with caregivers, she becomes aware that she has power – she is an agent of change within her own environment. She is able to cause things to happen and control objects. This awareness is known as “self-as-subject”, “I” or the “existential self”:

There are thought to be four elements to the existential self:

  1. an awareness of one’s own agency (i.e. one’s power to act) in life events,
  2. an awareness of the uniqueness of one’s own experience, of one’s distinctiveness from other people,
  3. an awareness of the continuity of one’s identity,
  4. an awareness of one’s own awareness, the element of reflexiveness.

For example, if a child closes his or her eyes, the world goes dark. If a toy is touched, it moves. The interaction with the world is physical, external and, in developmental terms, it helps the child differentiate between self and other.

What Makes Me?

At around a child’s second birthday, many children recognise themselves in a mirror or in a photograph. In Western cultures, from the age of 18 months to 3 years of age, infants start to display self-awareness through the use of the word “me” or “mine”. This self-sense isn’t a passive, self-reflective discovery, but is often the result of effort, particularly in rivalry with others. It arises from striving in the face of obstacles.

These are the second steps in establishing a full sense of self, the acquisition and elaboration as “self-as-object” or “me”, now often referred to as the “categorical self”. This aspect of self concerns the qualities that define oneself as a person, e.g. gender, name and relationships with others. Once a child has gained a certain level of self-awareness (of the existential self) he or she begins to place herself (or is placed by others) into a set of categories. This aspect of self is the most influenced by social factors, since it is made up of social roles (such as being a student, a sister, a friend) and characteristics that come from a comparison with others (such as trustworthiness, shyness or sporting ability). Social context is an important feature in self-development.

Self-Esteem

Measuring self-esteem is difficult. We might feel good about ourselves in one aspect of our lives, but not so good in others. One way of measuring self-esteem in children is to ask questions about how they feel in the different aspects of their life, such as: scholastic competence; athletic competence; social acceptance; behavioural conduct; physical appearance.

How we feel about ourselves overall may bear little or no relationship to how we feel about ourselves in these different areas. It’s the importance we place on our areas of achievement or failure that leads to an overall level of self-esteem. A child who is anxious to succeed at sport would have a high level of self-esteem if she did well at sport, but low self-esteem if her performance in sport was poor, even if the child was good academically or socially. The match between our aspirations and performance is one important factor in determining self-esteem. Another factor which might influence a child’s overall feeling of self-esteem is the regard in which they are held by “significant others”, people whose opinion the child values, such as parents, teachers and peers.

Gender identity

Children by the age of about two are able to correctly label themselves as a boy or a girl. But it is not until later that they understand that gender is a stable concept, e.g. that boys cannot become mothers. Being able to identify themselves in terms of gender helps children develop a sense of categorical self and helps define appropriate behaviour for boys and girls. Children develop their gender roles in part through imitation of models, so parents’ reactions to the behaviour of children are an important influence on children’s developing sense of gender identity. Parents who try to raise their children in a non-sexist way have encountered difficulties, as other influences such as the media and society itself can counter their attempts.

If children are shown individual differences between people, that different people believe different things, they can see that contradictory beliefs and behaviours can co-exist, that the rules for their family may not be true of the family next door, but both are valid.

Describing self changes as we grow older

A child uses comparison with others to see how he or she fits into different categories. In order to evaluate if he or she is short, tall, clever or shy, a child either has to compare themselves physically with others, or consider their evaluation by others.

This contrast between self and others helps the child to develop an increasingly complex understanding about self. Children’s self-descriptions change as they become more able to evaluate themselves and develop a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Children seem to think about themselves in different ways as they get older. Younger children seem to focus more on physical features, activities and behaviours, whereas older children mention more psychological characteristics. So, by the age of about 18, individuals are able to describe themselves in terms of the world of emotions, attitudes, secrets and wishes. Self-reflection is focused inwards, on their inner, private world.

OpenLearn, part of The Open University, have designed a test to illustrate how people of different ages define themselves. Once you take the test, you can then compare yourself to the database of other people who have taken the test to see how you compare with others in your age group, how you compare with people from other age groups and how people differ according to gender. Alternatively you can view the database without taking the test first. Try taking the test with a child and see how your results compare. So why not take the test to find out “Who Am I?”

That test link is here.

References
MIELL, D. (1995) ‘Developing a Sense of Self’
BARNES, P. (ed.) Personal, Social and Emotional Development of Children, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers

The above article was published by the BBC as part of their Child of our Time series, unfortunately no longer available online.

The results of the Who Am I test based on 53,345 entries as at October 30th, 2011, show overwhelmingly that both sexes at all ages describe their relationships and inner emotions as more important than their physical or character descriptions. For men from the age of 16-19 until 61+ their description of their relationships scores more important than their inner self but the margin is slight. For women over the same age span the situation is reversed; inner emotions score marginally higher than relationships.

What is very revealing is that for both sexes across the whole of their adult life, their physical and character identities are significantly less important than their social and emotional selves.