Tuesday 4 October is World Animal Day. The opportunity for Pamela Didier, neuropsychologist, psychology teacher at the University of Nîmes and animal mediation therapist at the ADPsy center in Saint-Georges-d’Orques (Hérault), to discuss the benefits of animals in our everyday life and in a care process.

Why do animals have such an important place in our lives?

One in two families owns animals in France, this is important. The animal offers many advantages. We find comfort in him, we feel understood, we are not contaminated by human communication, all our social codes. The animal is not a hypocrite. If he wants to come, he comes, if he doesn’t want to, he stays in his corner. Communication is simpler, more genuine, there is more authenticity. There is also for many a mechanism that allows them to fight against loneliness or the fear of being abandoned. It is very reassuring. Humans are always looking for unconditional love, but even if you are the least bit silly with your dog, he will still love you. He doesn’t hold a grudge, he doesn’t make you mad. It is immutable, reassuring.

Pamela Didier, neuropsychologist at Saint-Georges-d'Orques, specialist in animal mediation.

Pamela Didier, neuropsychologist at Saint-Georges-d’Orques, specialist in animal mediation.

Is this need for closeness to an animal even more important today than before?

I believe in him. We live in a world where things change quickly. This is the “quick service” generation. Today it is easier to change profession, husband or wife, we even change gender. Nothing is stable anymore. The animal, on the contrary, represents an obligation, moreover mutual. He is faithful, he loves us. It has always been reassuring, and it is even more so today, in this society in perpetual motion.

What are the benefits of animals?

There are many of them, as several studies have shown. And it differs according to animal. Seeing fish in the aquarium lowers blood pressure and heart rate. A cat’s purr affects certain brain waves related to sleep and relaxation. The animal is more generally a social catalyst… The myth of the bachelor who takes a dog for a cruise in the park, it is ultimately very true (laughs). The animal is a mediator in everyday life.

And is it also a therapeutic tool for you?

Exactly. A dog, a guinea pig, a horse, a goldfish… All an interest in therapy. For example, I use horses with young people who are in confrontation; Faced with an animal weighing 600 kilos, they can show their muscles, they will quickly understand that in order to make him move forward, you must give him pleasure, be in a relationship that motivates him. The horse also allows, by carrying the patient on its back, to cradle him and thus send him back to something nourishing. The guinea pig is used for an abused or placed child… By cleaning his cage, brushing it, the young patient understands that he would have liked to be taken care of. This is where the psychologist can open the dialogue with him, show him that he is missing things.

And the animal thus becomes a mediator?

He is actually a mediator between the patient and the psychologist. Thanks to the animal, we manage to create a link, to understand things without the patient expressing it… It is up to the psychologist to make it understood that he has understood. It will help de-escalate a situation. But the animal is not a therapist. I recently had the example of a person who claimed that animal therapy did not work because the request for a hug from his dog upset him, caused him to relive the anxiety of his past. This is proof that it works. But then you need the intervention of the shrink to press the scar and start the work.

You have many very different animals on your therapy farm. How do you choose your therapy partner?

It all depends on the problem, the age of the patient. I talked about the horse or the guinea pig, but you can also use the dog to work with assertiveness. Passing it through a tunnel allows you to dare to give orders without being insulting; to make the difference between attacking, asserting and being totally dominated… thus working on your relationship with your husband or wife, with your boss. It is easier to regain the trust of the animal.

Two dogs are currently accompanying the victims and the defendant in a trial related to the drama of Millas. How is it useful?

All people who love animals have experienced the comfort that a dog or cat can bring in cases of fatigue, low morale. The animal brings comfort. It is the same process in court. It allows you to not be alone in front of all these people who are watching and listening to us, so that you can calm down a little in case of difficulty, to better pick up the thread. I had a patient who was able to talk about her rape because she was physically clinging to a dog. I’m all for it.

To continue, read “The benefits of the animal at all ages : roles and functions of animals in psychotherapy” by Paméla Didier, published by Dunod (€21). Can be ordered on the ADPsy website.