The Lincoln Center: Animal Assisted Therapy: (Part 1)

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A therapy dog lying down.
Image via The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.

Who is this dog in your office, and can I please pet her?!

At The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth, we are cultivating an environment in which one or more friendly dogs, may sometimes spend time at the office during the workday.

Having the dog there boosts staff morale, and gives people access to the positive energy that comes from our friendly, loving pets.

In addition to a couple of people-loving office dogs, we also have one certified therapy dog who visits the office and sits with staff members during meetings and clients during therapy sessions. 

As an art psychotherapist, and doting mom to this lovable therapy dog, Stella, I have seen how her presence can bring joy and calm to the people around her. 

Well, what does she do as a therapy dog?

Stella’s role in a therapy session is multi-faceted.  At times, she provides much-needed comedic relief.  She can sometimes interrupt a tense or emotional moment with a dramatic sigh, or a sneeze, or a goofy facial expression. 

These interruptions can be a signal to step back into the present moment.  This can also create a pattern of pendulation in the therapy, where the client is able to unpack their stresses, anxieties, traumas, or depression, and then find moments of silliness and playfulness with Stella, before returning to the more emotional content of the session.

This switch between two moods can be a healing factor, as it allows people to alternate between uncomfortable moments and feelings of lightness and safety, thus increasing their tolerance for discomfort gradually in a safe, therapeutic space.

Additionally, animal-assisted therapy can help create safe environments to practice interpersonal skills for people who have experienced social anxiety, abuse, or harmful past relationships.

Learning to open up and trust another living being requires practice, time, bravery, compassion, distress tolerance, self-efficacy, and a strongly felt sense of safety. 

If a client has the opportunity to bond and connect with Stella, they may have more confidence, self-compassion, and skillfulness to approach interactions with other humans, too. 

My hope is that people may experience these benefits when they walk through our doors at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth’s new building in Audubon. We hope to bring you moments of enthusiasm, joy, lightheartedness, and a gentle reminder to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life.  As the poet Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

To answer my question from the beginning – this dog in my office is our therapy dog, Stella.  She’s here for you; please pet her!  She hopes that your plans include giving belly rubs and a generous scratch behind the ears.

Gretchen Tucker, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CCTP is a Supervisor for Mobile Victim Services at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Founded in 1970 by a behavioral health hospital, TLC is an entrepreneurial nonprofit providing innovative education, coaching, and counseling services to individuals and families, as well as grant writing and management services for school districts and universities.

Find out more about The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.

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