Apps, Pets Serve As Therapy For Mental Illness

By on November 12th, 2013
Emily Cooper and Alaska spend their first day together. Cooper adopted Alaska as part of her therapy in treating her anxiety and PTSD.

Contributed photo

Emily Cooper and Alaska spend their first day together. Cooper adopted Alaska as part of her therapy in treating her anxiety and PTSD.

New treatments are arising for individuals suffering from mental illness.

Emily Cooper, 19, was diagnosed in April with anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I was at a really sad and lonely point of my life, and being around people just wasn’t helping me,” Cooper said.

Cooper did not want to take medication and instead opted for an emotional support animal.

“I decided to get an emotional support animal out of a longing for companionship that my friends couldn’t give me,” Cooper said. “I wanted something that would love me unconditionally, despite my disorders.”

Emotional support animals (ESA) require no special training, certification or registration. They only require a doctor’s note stating the patient needs the animal, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“I found a therapist in my area after receiving my diagnoses, and we discussed having an ESA as a viable treatment option. The very next day I saw her, she had the letter written and signed for me,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s animal, a chestnut-colored miniature dachshund named Alaska, was given permission to live in her dorm room which has a no-pet policy.

“I was shocked at how willing people were to work with me,” she said. “I set up an appointment with the disability office before I got my ESA letter just to see what the process would be like, and they told me all they needed was documentation of my diagnoses and my ESA letter from my therapist.”

Cooper bought Alaska from a breeder in Missouri and has been self-training her to respond to her needs.

“When I’m upset, she’ll cuddle me. If I relapse and self-harm, she’ll lick my wounds. She even goes as far as to prevent me in harming myself,” Cooper said. “If I lock myself in the bathroom for too long, she’ll whine and scratch at the door. She’ll nip at my hands to distract me when my anxiety gets high. She’ll lick my face when I’m crying.”

While Alaska is a full-time, long-term commitment, another new form of behavioral therapy includes the development of mobile applications.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, a division of the Department of Defense, has developed mobile applications that help people struggling with depression, PTSD and anxiety.

Joe Jimenez, public relations officer at the center, said the app, T2, has been downloaded more than 600,000 since it was released in 2010.

The app, originally designed for service men and women, anonymously graphs a person’s emotional well-being through information the person enters.

The user is able to customize the categories such as anxiety, depression and general well-being, and can rate their feelings on a sliding scale.

Jimenez said one of the challenges the department aims to address is people not readily seeking help.

“We have to design it in such a way that they feel comfortable, and that they don’t have to see a behavioral therapist until they want to,” Jimenez said.

“The issues that (service men and woman) have is the same issues as the general population,” Jimenez said. “Our job is to find ways that technology can be used to provide behavior health resources to our service member populations and their families.”

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