Abstract: Providers'views on the Effect of Dogs on Veterans Diagnosed with PTSD (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Providers'views on the Effect of Dogs on Veterans Diagnosed with PTSD

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley O'connor, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Background and Purpose: Emerging studies have demonstrated that psychiatric service dogs may be an adjunct to therapy to help lessen the concerns of other traditional treatments and increase treatment adherence for PTSD. For years, dogs have been shown to help with stress and anxiety, resulting in a growing popularity of the use of dogs for populations who may experience high amounts of stress, and service dog programs for veterans who experience PTSD. Oftentimes, mental health providers are tasked with helping clients apply for a psychiatric dog, or in figuring out how to incorporate the dog into treatment. However, limited information exists on providers’ views of psychiatric dog impact on clients. This research study investigated providers’ sense of the clinical impact of psychiatric dogs on their clients.

Methods: Invited by email, 15 mental health providers who have worked with veterans at the US Department of Veterans Affairs hospital (VA) completed a survey on Qualtrics that was created through a review of literature and collaboration between mental health providers. Multiple choice and short answer questions were included on topics such as how much the provider felt dogs helped or hindered different clusters of PTSD symptoms, social well-being, overall mental health, and functional health. Descriptive statistics were run to explore how much providers felt the dogs helped or hindered their client’s progress. Open-ended responses were reviewed for common themes.

Results: Findings from this exploratory study are consistent with findings from recent studies that suggest that dogs may be helpful in reducing PTSD symptoms and symptoms of depression. Overall, providers felt that veterans with PTSD may gain numerous benefits from a psychiatric dog, such as improved social interactions, increased ability to relax, and a decrease in suicidal ideation. Participants indicated improvement in at least one cluster of PTSD symptoms (93.3%) that they felt was due to the dog. One wrote “I have had several patients whom I do not believe would still be alive (either suicide or alcohol associated accident) if not for their dog and the changes they made because of the dog.” However, approximately half (46.7%) of the participants indicated that a client had discussed difficulties with their dog such as inability to access public places or housing with the dog and potential exposure to triggering situations.

Conclusions and Implications: Pairing veterans with a dog can be a beneficial resource to aid in recovery when used correctly in conjunction with other treatments, such as exposure-based therapies and medication. However, potential negative outcomes must also be monitored. After viewing this session, attendees will be able to describe potential outcomes (positive and negative) of psychiatric service dogs for veterans with PTSD and assess whether a dog may be appropriate to support a client.