Many know that our furry friends help solve crimes and aid the blind, but did you know that they can be very important to the therapeutic process? Our Greater Good Nominee, Howard Bonem, has been showcasing the value of these extraordinary creatures in his therapeutic practice for over 10 years. During that time period, Bonem has had two canine partners. His first partner, Woodruff, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel assisted Bonem in his practice for over eight years. Bonem raised him from a puppy, deciding to employ him in his therapeutic practice after his wife advised him that he could only have Woodruff if he took him to the office. The two of them completed a therapy dog training course, earning certificates from the American Kennel Club and Therapy Dog International.
According to Bonem, Woodruff’s presence was very helpful from a clinical perspective, both for diagnostics and intervention. Bonem elaborated that observing the interactions between clients and the dog gave him insight into clients’ conditions. He stated that he could often observe when clients had poor boundaries, impulse control issues, or were self-absorbed, just by watching how they interacted with Woodruff. Woodruff’s behavior with clients also gave Bonem greater perspective on the client’s condition. For example, Bonem recounts that Woodruff was very sensitive to clients suffering from acute major depressive episodes: he would sit on clients’ laps during the episode, but would discontinue this behavior when the episodes were lifting. Bonem also highlights how Woodruff was very useful in teaching his child patients about self control, and for educating parents about limit setting.
In addition to his therapeutic skills, Woodruff was a great companion for clients. He graciously accepted the treats that clients offered for him, and was very tolerant, allowing children to dress him up in costume. Bonem stated that most patients loved having Woodruff in the session, with the exception of a few clients who were allergic, and one client with borderline personality disorder, who did not want to share Bonem’s attention. Sadly, Woodruff passed away in 2010. After Woodruff’s death, Bonem selected another partner, who he is currently training for therapeutic duty.
During our interview, Bonem highlighted the many benefits of having a canine partner, as well as discussed some of the unique challenges that occur when bringing a dog into the therapy session. He said that he loves having the companionship that a dog provides. He also added that having a dog in the session really helps break down barriers with clients too, making sessions less threatening, and helping clients feel comfortable opening up. Bonem cautions that the biggest challenge to using dogs in therapy occurs when a patient has a fear, but adds that having a dog present can be very useful for exposure-based therapies and treating other fears. He also advised that anybody interested in pursuing dog therapy should make sure their dog is well trained, as well as be mindful of the dog’s needs.
About the Author
Tiara Dillon is 26 year old aspiring psychologist with a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. She plans to pursue doctoral studies in clinical psychology in the very near future. She is primarily interested in studying socio-cultural factors related to depression, and has conducted two experiments investigating the relationship between the two. Tiara enjoys being outdoors and watching local musicians, especially in the summer. She spends most of her free time socializing with family and friends, attending boxing classes at the gym, or partaking in her newly-discovered landscaping hobby.
If you would like to nominate someone to be featured in a future Greater Good article, contact Dr. Mary Miller Lewis.