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Beau the dog and Animal Assisted Therapy

Written by Communications Intern Eloise Cadman 

Psychotherapy. What is the first thing that pops in to your mind when I say this word? Not much? A little confused perhaps? One thing’s for sure.  I don’t think a dog called Beau comes to mind immediately.

University can be stressful. It’s a very exciting time, of course. But you are moving away from home and entering this new, unfamiliar place. So it’s perfectly normal to find parts of this experience challenging, and that’s why it is so helpful to have ways to help you manage.

I’d like to briefly tell you about a recent experience I had which has helped me with my stress.

I went to go and meet Hannah Clarke, a UKCP psychotherapist who has lots of animals that get involved in her therapy sessions. If they fancy it. They may have their days when they are more interested in staying in bed, which is also fine. This is called Animal Assisted Therapy. It is wonderful, and here’s why.

Having my first psychotherapy session was daunting. However, knowing it was with Hannah, in her beautiful garden, surrounded by wonderful animals, made it feel less intimidating, and more exciting.

I was pretty anxious at the time and, having only just finished university, I was faced with another large change. And a new environment. A similar feeling to when I started university.

I was welcomed by a gorgeous Irish Setter who nuzzled his nose into my leg. I immediately felt at ease. Rather than worrying thinking about every possible thing that could go wrong, I was concentrating on the dog. For once I felt calmer just because my attention was elsewhere.

When myself and Hannah had a cup of tea, and settled down to discuss my worries a little bit more, because I had Beau to stroke, a pig called Colin trotting around and various other animals in the distance, the conversation didn’t seem as hard. I didn’t mind talking about ‘bad feelings’. I just went with it and enjoyed the experience.

Whilst animals are lovely to cuddle, they are also brilliant companions when you’re feeling low. I truly believe they understand how we are feeling and react in a way which comforts us. Concentrating on an animal, whether it is a picture of your pet or you’re with one in person, gives your brain a well-deserved rest, even for 30 seconds.

You can transfer this to different things too. Placing attention on a sound for a minute, for example, does the same thing. So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, stressed perhaps, just stop for a minute. Look at something you love, or concentrate on a sound. It might just help to calm you.

The UKCP university project wants to bring new ideas to tackling mental health and building the conversation around it. If animals aren’t your thing, have a look back on the UKCP list of stress-busting tips and give one a go. It’s worth it. Find your ‘thing’ and share it with your mates.

Psychotherapy isn’t plain and simple. It’s so much more.


For help at university please contact:

  • Student Support Services
  • University GP and Counselling Service
  • Family and Friends
  • Samaritans is free to talk about anything on 116123 or email them on jo@samaritans.org
  • Go to b-eat.co.uk about food and information about eating disorders.
  • The Mix, contact 0808 808 4994 regarding a number of issues related to drugs, alcohol and sex.
  • Talk to Frank on 0300 123660about drugs and alcohol.
  • Visit brook.org.uk regarding sexual health matters.