The life and times of a therapy dog and her psychotherapist owner, Daniel Fryer

Daniel Fryer
The Hippocratic Post

Daniel Fryer is a psychotherapist specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy and clinical hypnotherapy who says his patients at the Priory’s Hospital in Bristol are benefiting from contact with his clinical therapy dog, Lara. Here, Daniel talks about working with Lara.

‘Lara was adopted from Battersea Dogs Home and became a therapy dog by default due to my job as a psychotherapist at the Priory’s Hospital, Bristol. The therapy Lara provides in my sessions doesn’t require any formal training, however, she is registered with the national organisation Pets as Therapy as a therapy animal which ensures that interactions are safe, therapeutic and clinically effective. Plus, I have a diploma in Animal Assisted Therapy alongside my other qualifications.’

There are around 6,300 Pets as Therapy dogs visiting hospitals, residential nursing homes and special needs schools in the UK.

Daniel continues: ‘A therapy dog is different from an assistance dog, which will have special training to provide support for someone with a disability, or for someone living with conditions such as epilepsy. A therapy dog needs to be calm and react well to people’s tears, sudden noises and movements.

Where appropriate and where patients are keen, we introduce her into our sessions, allowing them to interact with her either through patting and stroking, or grooming and hugging her as they participate in their bespoke therapy. I find this helps provide reassurance in moments of distress and helps to rebuild self-esteem. She also performs regular ward visits here at the hospital.

Lara is a fantastic therapy dog and provides a unique comfort to patients. On one occasion, she went over to my patient, put a paw on her lap and literally demanded some attention. Afterwards, the lady in question told me that was exactly what she had needed at that moment and was convinced that Lara sensed that.’

‘There is little doubt in my mind that Lara helps build trust between myself and a client, helps reduce stress, boost self-esteem and generally improve mood. A lot of my therapy sessions have been conducted with the client happily sitting on the floor cuddling and stroking Lara.‘

‘She gets more feedback on our feedback forms than I do! Animals can trigger the release of endorphins, which gives a calming effect and boosts the level of serotonin, a chemical linked with happiness and well-being.’

‘By directing one’s attention towards another living thing, a patient’s focus is drawn away from his or her own difficulties and, for a while, they can distance themselves from their distress and then begin talking about their own issues and consider ways forward.’

‘Lara works as a great ice breaker in one-to-one and group therapy sessions by making my patients feel more at ease and always lifts the spirits of patients on our ward visits. Petting or stroking a dog does wonders for your blood pressure and stress levels.’

Studies have found that just the presence of a dog can help lower levels of stress and anxiety. A recent Dogs Trust survey found that 95% of dog owners in Britain believe that interacting with their dog made them happier, with 89% saying they talk to their dog when no one else is around.

‘Lara is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed that despite their fearsome reputation and the bad press they often receive, is very loving and people-orientated which makes them very effective as therapy dogs. All my Staffie wants out of life is a great big cuddle and a belly rub. She is a great ambassador for the breed.’

‘She is brilliant when patients are feeling stressed and anxious by providing them with love and attention.’

‘Lara is probably the most popular member of the therapy services team!’