Therapy Dogs Bring Comfort

December 16, 2020

Therapy dogs have been by Sandy Clark’s side throughout her career.

Now she’s trying to help pave the way for the next generation to look at counseling and therapy in a new, brighter light.

The Andover resident and professional counselor’s children’s book “Charlie the Therapy Dog” is set to be released in the new year, pending it reaching its Kickstarter funding goal by Dec. 31. The project was closing in on its target with two weeks remaining, needing less than $1,000 more of backing. The book was written by Clark, with illustrations by Janeanna Rivera.

“I really enjoyed writing this book,” Clark said. “Writing a children’s book was a fun way to start being a writer. I have a great illustrator and publisher, and they made it easy for me. Teamwork!“I’m hoping to teach people that therapy dogs can do so much more than just visit at the hospital or nursing home. They truly have a purpose! Having therapy dogs work with me in my counseling practice has changed my life and how I perceive people’s pathway to recovery. There truly are many paths.”

Not only is there nothing to shy away from about getting help, it is positive and can be life-changing. Therapy dogs can help people become more open about the process, yielding transformational results.

“I decided to start writing books about 10 years ago, when encouraged by friends, family and colleagues to talk about the work I do with my therapy dogs in counseling and in the community,” Clark said. “I even spoke at conferences to addiction and mental health professionals. I wanted to write a children’s book because childhood is where it all begins. If we can give children these experiences and perspectives, it may help them as adults break the stigma of seeking help.”

The book is about Clark’s therapy dog Charlie, who came to Clark’s family as a gift for their older dog Maggie. When Maggie was 8, they brought Charlie home to cheer up Maggie, also a therapy dog. On his first birthday, Charlie became a therapy dog as well, assisting in Clark’s work with individuals encountering co-occuring disorders such as addiction and mental illness. They also volunteer throughout the community.

“Charlie is a very intuitive dog, and lays on people’s feet in therapy sessions when he knows they need emotional attending to,” Clark said. “Therapy dogs attend to people’s emotions. They’re different than service dogs that I mention in my book. However, animal-assisted therapy is much more than just visiting. It allows me to utilize the dog in sessions to discuss things like trust, relationships, trauma and more. I have had three therapy dogs, and they have worked with me in all kinds of settings, including jail-treatment programs. Having a dog accompany me into the segregation pod where all the inmates are locked in a cell and the dog is free is a very eye-opening experience.”

While therapy dogs have obvious benefits to people in therapy, they are also a source of strength and comfort for those leading.

“My therapy dogs do so much for staff at all the facilities I go to,” Clark said. “Most healthcare staff are facing stressful situations, and staff often will seek out my dogs for comfort and love. Addiction and mental health are heavy burnout fields, and I probably would have left the field a long time ago if it weren’t for my dogs. They keep me going. I even did my Master’s thesis on ‘The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Mental Health.’ My research showed significant results, with a reduction of 75% depression from the beginning of group therapy sessions to the end of two-group therapy sessions.”

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