Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
I have been a therapist for about 20 years, since the early 1990’s in Cincinnati, Oh where I attained my doctoral degree. About the same time, Animal Assisted Therapy began to take root. Technically, it was first mentioned in research in 1962 by a child psychologist name Dr Boris Levinson in a publication called Mental Hygiene. He discussed how he brought his dog, Jingles, in with a very disturbed child that he had been working with. His research suggested that many of his most uncommunicative patients reacted positively when exposed to Jingles.As many Psychologist’s understand, although pets have been used very successfully with patients, much of the information has been undocumented.
It took me several years to find a dog that would work well with my patients. Many of my dogs were too hyperactive, or didn’t pick up on the non verbal cues (crying, anxiety, fear) in a way that I could use in a professional setting. As a footnote, I should mention that I did have a Standard Poodle, prior to Molly, Spencer, that did not have the right temperament for an Animal Assisted Therapy Pet. However, he was amazing at knowing when my husband at the time was about to have an epileptic seizure!
When I adopted Molly, a small Standard Poodle, I was told by her groomer that she would never make a good therapy dog. All I can say, 12 years later is , “WOW! Was she ever wrong!” She was basing her opinion on a bouncing 5 month old dog that she groomed for the one time. I worked with Molly for several years before I introduced her to patients. We worked together predominately when my Systemic Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis was flaring. She learned to pick up on my non verbal cues: tears or anxiety as I struggled with severe pain or sadness when I went through a number of surgeries forcing me to quit work for a while.
I noticed that, unlike my other two dogs, she would immediately interact with me when she saw me crying, or physically ill. She would come from another part of the house and appear out of nowhere to comfort me. She could also pick up when my daughter was unhappy or sad. She had an intuitive ability that I had not seen in any dog I had owned previously.
When I was able to go back to work, I started introducing her to my patients and it was an immediate win-win situation. My patient’s adored having her there, she was gentle, kind, and intuitive. Over the years I have seen her fall asleep during a session, and then awaken suddenly, approach my patient, and pat them on the thigh with one of her front paws. At that moment, the tears would pour. What did she sense while she was asleep? It was a moment that perhaps I missed, but she felt and immediately reacted on. Giving my patients a furry face to cry into.
BASICS ABOUT ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY
These dogs are NOT service dogs. The service dogs ( the one’s you might see wearing a jacket in a store or at the mall) are protected by the American’s With Disability’s Act. These animals are trained to assist individuals who are struggling with physical or emotional disabilities. Therapy animals work with PROFESSIONALS (ie: Psychologists, Therapists, etc) and their patients. Molly helps ME to help my patient.
We do know that working with animals causes certain shifts within the person participating with the pet ( these trained animals are not just dogs, they can be horses, cats, birds, etc). After several minutes of working with an animal often the patient has a decrease in blood pressure, anxiety, and isolation. They often report an increase in trust, which is very important when working with patients with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2009, A.H. Fine (Animal Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice: San Diego, CA: Academic Press) reported an increase in mood, memory and participation in therapy with patients when working with animals.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH MOLLY (or “A focus group of One”)
I have seen that when Molly participates with my patient’s they immediately seem calmer and are more willing to address harder issues. Often they won’t look at me directly, they will be focused on petting or cuddling with Molly while telling me about things that are very painful. When the tears start to flow, often Molly will stand up and begin to lick their face. Which is very helpful with PTSD patients that have struggled with extensive sexual abuse as children. Safe touch is often foreign to them, especially touch from a human.But touch from an animal is a completely different experience in my work with Molly.
Working with animals in therapy also helps model healthy relationships. Molly has boundaries, which many abused patient’s struggle with because as children their boundaries were demolished. I don’t allow Molly to jump up on my patient, or if my patient is uncomfortable with her participation, I immediately call her to sit by me. This shows my patients that I don’t need to yell or abuse my dog into submission. Also, they find that if they are scared or uncomfortable they can say STOP or NO and Molly and I will immediately work to make her comfortable and safe.
Molly is an amazing adjunct to the type of therapy I practice, which is more on the “creative side.” I was trained as a Gestalt Therapist, but I use play therapy with adults (drawing, using play doh,) puppets, and sand tray work, among other things. As soon as I get down on the floor with my patient in front of my sand tray, Molly immediately comes over and sits next to the kleenex box. She understands when we do sand tray that is often an emotionally charged exercise and she needs to right there in case she is needed.
Animal Assisted Therapy is an amazing adjunct to my work. When new patient’s call me and I explain that I work with Molly they are all so excited. I explain when they come in she will immediately greet them, so they are prepared. I think that being greeted by a lovely loving standard poodle helps to decrease “white coat syndrome” – that nervous feeling many people get before seeing a Physician or Psychotherapist for the first time. She helps my patient’s to feel as if they are visiting a friend. Well, to be entirely honest, the Oreo’s I usually have out are a big sell with my adolescent clients too (although Molly is not allowed to participate in THAT part of therapy!).
Below is a video I snagged from You Tube about a dog that was trained to work with a victim of PTSD. Please note that his dog is NOT Molly and has been trained different cues. But it will give you a brief idea of what is possible with Animal Assisted Therapy.
I hope this has given you a brief description of what Therapy with “Molly and Dr Karen” is like. If you want more information, or would like to learn about how I do therapy, please feel free to go to the other pages of my site: www.drkahoving.com. Each page has my phone number as well as a form on the right side that you can send directly to me with questions about Molly or working with me (I do Skype therapy as well as in office).
Dr Karen Hoving www.facebook.com/drkarenhoving firstname.lastname@example.org