Therapy boom: Meet the animals helping us through life
Guinea pigs, chickens, horses and even llamas are being used to help treat mental illness as part of a booming trend in animal-assisted therapy.
A conference showcasing how animals are being used to treat an array of human physical and mental conditions and disabilities, from post-traumatic stress to autism, kicks off on the Gold Coast on Monday.
The virtual conference is part of national 'Animals Helping Humans Month' and has been organised by Coast-based charity Animal Therapies Ltd, headed by Wendy Coombe.
Ms Coombe, a former corporate high-flyer who started the organisation in 2018 after suffering a breakdown, said research showed that animals could provide humans with significant therapeutic benefits, and not just as pets.
They were being used by specialist physical and psychological therapists to help people with disabilities or PTS triggered by trauma including COVID-19, domestic violence and war service.
She said while dogs were the most common therapy animal, horses were being increasingly used to treat conditions such as PTS and anxiety.
'Equine-assisted therapists' were working with people including sex abuse survivors and bullying victims.
"People that have been abused or bullied, or victims of domestic violence, often don't feel safe in a human relationship," she said.
"They've been hurt by humans so they don't trust humans. That's where animal-assisted therapy comes into its own."
Ms Coombe said a Gold Coast therapist was using llamas to help counsel trauma victims.
"She has two llamas which go for walks with clients into the hinterland to help with mindfulness," she said.
Guinea pigs and rabbits were being used to help heal child abuse victims, while people with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome were using horseriding as a therapy.
Ms Coombe said specially-trained animals were also being taken into nursing homes and hospitals to comfort residents and patients.
Originally published as Therapy boom: Meet the animals helping us through life