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'Prescribing' companion animals for patients with mental illness


 

Given the shifting focus of psychiatry to a more comprehensive recovery model, evidence that animals can function not only as social companions, but also as therapy pets is gaining attention. With further research, we might be able to determine a mental health need presented by a patient and subsequently "prescribe" the kind of animal that would be best suited to "treat" the need.

In the meantime, clinicians should keep in mind the benefits of pet companionship. Discussions involving the meaning of pets in patients’ lives might increase the therapeutic alliance and make patients feel more connected, understood, and engaged in their treatment.

Dr. Wittenauer is a resident in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University, Atlanta. Dr. Ascher is a resident in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York.

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