Article by Dr. David Lee “Mental health issues can’t be left to pet therapy alone”

9 Jul, 2017 Categories: In the News, Blog

Mental health issues can’t be left to pet therapy alone
Psychologist says studies have not been done on large samples and are not conclusive


Abu Dhabi: There are a number of studies that support the idea that pets are helpful in terms of mental health, said Dr David Lee, 39, British, lead consultant clinical psychologist at HealthPlus Children’s Speciality Centre, Abu Dhabi. “They can reduce stress levels and help with other things such as depression.”

The only thing though, said Dr Lee, is that the studies are not conclusive and have not been, generally speaking, conducted on large samples. “The studies haven’t really looked at cause and effect, so what they haven’t done is control other variables actually may play a role such as in whether the indivuals in the study may recover from mental health.”

Having a pet, he said, can lead “to a sense of responsibility in the same way many other things can lead to a sense of responsibility, for example, having a home, car or other responsibilities in the community,” he said. In the case of a child, it’s like the responsibility of having to complete home work, he said.

On the issue of whether it is pets who lead to a sense of mood uplift or if it is compassion that makes the difference, Dr Lee said, “Sometimes, we maybe getting things the wrong way – we are presuming that pets are good for our happiness whereas in fact, people who tend to love and value pets tend to be generally compassionate, caring people. That’s not to say pets can’t lead to happiness but I don’t think pets are a solution when we are looking at recovery from mental health issues. My concern would be getting to the stage where it almost becomes a norm for pets to be prescribed for people with stress, anxiety or depression. If that were to be the case, psychiatrists would have been prescribing pets for many years.”

I think it’s much more the case that having pets is a good thing so far as we get close to them. I think universally it’s a good thing for all of us to be able to do that, not just with pets but with people too.”

However, Dr Lee clarified that when it comes to looking after a pet, “an individual who is depressed, for example, may not be the best person to look after the pet. I think sometimes we need to define what we mean by responsibility and in some cases, ask if the responsibility of having a pet is actually the best thing both for the pet and that person at that particular moment of time.”

That’s not to say people with depression or anxiety can’t benefit from having pets around them, said Dr Lee, “but I think we need to be careful.”