LOS ALTOS, CA, August 17, 2012 – His name is Juan Carlos – a rather distinguished moniker, to be sure, especially for a dog. But Juan Carlos is no ordinary dog. He’s been specially trained as a psychiatric service animal to provide emotional support to a friend of mine who suffers from severe anxiety, enabling her to rely far less on drugs to keep her condition in check and a lot more on the unconditional love that dogs seem especially adept at providing.
As “touchy feely” as this may sound, there’s quite a lot of hard evidence to support the notion that love – both given and received by pooches and people alike – can have a measurable impact on our health.
According to Dr. Melissa Kaime, who oversees the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), “A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with [post-traumatic stress disorder] who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take.”
In 2010 Drs. Craig T. Love and Joan Esnayra decided to take this research to the next level by initiating a more formalized study into the effectiveness of what are sometimes referred to as “guide dogs for the mind.”
“We’ve been developing the psychiatric service dog therapeutic model for about 12 years and we’ve worked with hundreds of people who have PTSD and we know that it works,” they said in a CDMRP press release. “We know from working with individuals that they are experiencing symptom reduction and they’re also using less PRN medication. And so, it’s really time to test this model scientifically.”
Whether Drs. Love and Esnayra will be able to determine why those patients with canine companions enjoy better health remains to be seen. But perhaps some hint can be found in what one Vietnam vet said in a recent article from the Baseline of Health web site.
“I can talk with just about any social worker, counselor, my closest friend, a psychologist, [but] the dog looks in my eyes and seems to understand what my real basic need is. It’s that self-worth that makes me feel a private pride, something that I thought I’d lost a long time ago.”
While there are those who would describe this scenario strictly in biochemical terms, the fact of the matter is that people suffering from a variety of mental ailments are improving – both physically and spiritually – simply through the expression of love, without experiencing any of the unsavory side effects associated with psychotropic drugs.
The question remains, however, as to whether love – self-worth, connectedness, purpose, whatever you want to call it – is something that can ever be adequately understood by medical science and, if so, effectively administered.
Perhaps the answer lies in gaining a better understanding of the source of love itself.
Although he’s not what one might consider your typical medical researcher, St. Paul might have uncovered this source some 2000 years ago when he wrote, “We love each other because he (God) first loved us” (I John 4:19). This would seem to indicate, then, that love is not merely a human emotion but a divine and, presumably, inexhaustible resource available to one and all, both to give and to get.
Juan Carlos included.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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