How Can Service Dogs Help Individuals with TBI and PTSD?
How can service dogs help individuals with TBI and PTSD?
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[Dr. Kristen Maisano] What a service dog can do for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or mild traumatic brain injury is they can help with the physical— I'm sorry—the psychological symptoms that somebody is experiencing. So if we took something like getting nervous on a Metro or having a hard time going through a grocery store— the grocery store is not easy for someone who has been in a deployed situation because it's a confined environment and there are paths that you need to follow, so a person can track where you're going. And then what many service members call "the fatal funnel," which is a doorway, so you want to stay out of the fatal funnel. And when we think about the cash register at a grocery store, everybody needs to funnel in there, right? Everybody needs to get out. And if an enemy knows that they need to get you and you're going to need to go through that cashier, then waiting in line and paying and packing your groceries can be a source of anxiety and a source of hypervigilance for someone. Now if they had a service animal to kind of ground them, to bring them back to where they are now, to give support when needed and they have something to focus on—a service animal that they need to take care of. The service animal can be right with them, and they do a variety of different things. They might provide pressure to somebody's leg. They might just be there as an element of something to focus on. It's very interesting— different organizations do different things with psychological health dogs— anywhere from some people train dogs as sleep companions— what a sleep companion dog would do is provide some pressure while the person is sleeping, so I almost liken it to swaddling a baby or the great feeling you get when you snuggle under a huge heavy blanket and you feel safe. It kind of grounds somebody and says, "I'm in America. I'm in Washington, D.C. I'm safe—everything is okay." Psychological health dogs can also help with other types of outings as far as just gaining confidence to get where you need to go, knowing that he or she is there with you and you are with them and you guys are battle buddies so to speak and you're going to get through things together.
Posted on BrainLine May 15, 2013. Reviewed February 1, 2022.
Kristen Maisano, OTD is an occupational therapist and the interim director of Rehabilitation Services for the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. She specializes in evaluating and treating military patients with traumatic brain injuries.