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Schizoaffective Disorder and Companion Animals

June 22, 2013

A person can increase his or her quality of life by knowing and applying coping techniques. This is true of people who have schizoaffective disorder too. Because this diagnosis means different things to different people, there is no way of knowing which skills and support systems will work.


There are numerous resources that help individuals with mental health disorders build balanced lives. While a regimen of both medication and therapy is important to a successful treatment plan, a companion animal may offer additional therapeutic benefits. For many people with schizoaffective disorder, this pet is more than a friend, but a life-saver.

Benefits of Having a Companion Animal

Sometimes, those who have schizoaffective disorder and live with a companion animal are able to avoid certain symptoms. Keris Myrick is an example of someone who allows a pet to help her cope. (The pet terrier jumps into her lap when he feels she is approaching a state of distress.)

In addition, companion animals serve as:

– Outlets for empathy
– Emotional connections
– Built-in support systems

They also help to:
– Combat a tendency towards social isolation
– Enable self-efficacy

Three types of Companion Animals

A dog is a man’s best friend – the saying goes. For those who struggle with mental health disorders, and want an animal for support purposes, there are three types of helpful dogs available.

1) Emotional Support Dogs (ESD)

These dogs are commonly trained animals meant to serve as companions. Like most family dogs, they offer affection and motivate individuals to perform daily living tasks. Even though an ESD is not seen as a “service dog,” this purposeful pet is allowed, by law, to live in homes that may not otherwise allow animals.  In addition, the pet can travel by plane, accompanying the owner in the cabin area of an aircraft.

2) Mental Health/ Psychiatric Service Dogs

The second type of dog is known to assist individuals with anxiety disorders and has training in making the owner feel safe and secure. Psychiatric service dogs can often sense when their owner is experiencing anxiety. Dogs who fit this category have received advanced training in obedience and task performance. This type of animal is well-behaved while still being protective in public settings.

3) Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are known for lavishing affection onto people who are unable to move about freely, and in some cases, may not be able to leave their homes. In addition to dogs, cats can also be recognized as “therapy pets.” In order to be seen as such, the animal and its owner need to receive proper registration and certification. Most of the time, having enjoyable social skills and being commonly trained is enough to gain this title.

Both dogs and cats make for good companion pets. In addition to creating a comfortable atmosphere, these animals offer assistance and support. People who own these dogs often cherish the stability and balance they bring to their lives. For more information about whether of not a companion pet will serve as an appropriate addition to an individual’s mental health treatment plan, read this article by Clinical Psychiatry News.

Image made available by Marvin Kuo on Flickr through Creative Common Licenses.

*Please note: All research for this article is compiled from direct and third party sources. Mention of programs, organizations and companies does not imply support of The National Benefit Authority.  Pictures are for creative purposes only; they are not intended to sell or promote products for the NBA and belong to the accredited individual, organization or company.

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