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How a PTSD Service Dog Can Help

A Black and Tan German Shepherd bonds with her Handler whos holding her gently

A dog is a person’s best friend, but for a PTSD service dog, their role in a person’s life is even more than that. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder service dogs serve a critical function and make a difference in their owners’ lives. They help make the person aware of triggers and assist them in living with their mental health concerns.

What is PTSD?

To understand why those diagnosed with PTSD might consider getting a service dog, you must understand what PTSD is. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that may develop after witnessing, hearing about, or experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD is a psychological disorder that can cause severe intrusions in daily life.

Traumatic events include: 

  • Sexual violence, such as sexual assault or rape
  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Abuse
  • Accidents, such as motor vehicle accidents
  • Serious health problems
  • Assaults or threats of violence

Other events or situations may cause trauma and even PTSD, depending on the individual. Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose PTSD.

What Are PTSD Symptoms?

The criteria for a PTSD diagnosis include flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, triggers, emotional difficulties, and disruptions in daily life. A person must have a defined set of symptoms for more than six months to receive a PTSD diagnosis. But they also can experience other symptoms.

Various symptoms associated with PTSD include:

  • Negative or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure
  • Heightened sense of arousal/ hypervigilance (scares easily, jumps at noises, etc.)
  • Dissociating (feeling not yourself, not knowing how you got somewhere)
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Easily irritable

Each person’s experience with PTSD is unique. There is no way to tell if someone has PTSD or not by looking at them or by observing their behaviors.

Woman cuddles her Golden Retriever dog friend in summer at garden

Treatment Options for PTSD

Treatment options for PTSD include medication and therapy. A doctor might prescribe an antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, or other medication appropriate to the individual experiencing PTSD. 

Integrative Life Center offers a variety of therapeutic approaches aimed at healing trauma and, by extension, PTSD. 

ILC offers treatment including:

Additionally, ILC offers a comprehensive trauma treatment center in Nashville. 

How a PTSD Service Dog Can Help

A service dog can do specific tasks for its owner. Unlike an emotional support animal, the Americans with Disabilities Act covers service dogs. This act gives handlers the right to take their service dog to public places. 

Service dogs perform specific tasks that help make their handler safer in various environments. For example, sight-impaired individuals might use a service dog to get around. People at risk of seizures might have a service dog to alert them to get to a safe space before a seizure happens.

PTSD service dogs perform various tasks to assist their handlers in dealing with some effects of the disorder. 

Tasks PTSD service dogs perform include:

  • Alerts. Service dogs can alert their handlers that a car or a person is approaching, that it is time to take medication, or that their handler is experiencing a spike in cortisol levels or blood sugar. These things may cause or be signs of an oncoming panic attack.
  • Interruptions. Service dogs can nudge, lick, or lay down on their handler if they are dissociating, experiencing a flashback, performing repetitive behaviors, or engaging in self-harm.
  • Movements. Service dogs can perform specific movements at certain times to protect their handler from a surprise approach from the back. They can also provide a physical barrier between their handler and a crowd if that is a trigger for their handler. 
  • Guides. Service dogs lead their handler to safety if they are experiencing a panic attack, dissociation, or if a situation is unsafe.
  • Calls. Service dogs can call for emergency services or contact a safe person or a counselor from a pre-planned phone if their handler is non-responsive or needs crisis services.

Each task is fit for each service dog and their handler according to the specific needs of the person living with PTSD.

Getting Help for PTSD

Alongside therapy, service dogs can aid in someone’s recovery from PTSD. By performing specific tasks that help their handlers deal with their symptoms and triggers, service dogs can reduce anxiety, increase serotonin, and lower blood pressure. PTSD service dogs also provide companionship and comfort to their handlers.

Integrative Life Center provides a supportive environment for those wanting to heal from PTSD. Service dogs are allowed and encouraged on-site for those with qualifying needs. Contact ILC if you want to learn more about the qualifications for PTSD, trauma treatment, or how therapeutic services could benefit you.

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