Hello, I am crazily excited to introduce my new blog, which is centred around my animal assisted therapy work with Daisy, Sam's Superheroes Therapy Dog! But first, I would love to share a little bit about myself so you can get to know me!
My name is Kirstie and I work at Bridge the Gap as a Therapeutic Social Worker! I know first-hand the importance of nurturing and supporting children’s emotional well-being, as in my teenage years I experienced trauma that resulted in a continuous battle with my own mental health. But sadly, when I was a teenager the education, recognition and support for those struggling with their mental health simply wasn't available. Back then mental health challenges were still very much stigmatised and not well understood, so I was left to battle my inner turmoil alone, without any support. Impacting this further was witnessing my dad’s own mental health challenges as a direct result of his childhood experiences. My long journey struggling with mental health issues has made me exceptionally aware of the wide ranging impacts of emotional well being, either positive or negative, it literally touches every single area of our lives! As you can imagine, my lived experience, has made me exceptionally passionate about my work and gives me unique insights into the every day struggle of living with mental health, or emotional well-being challenges.
The continuous cycle of my mental health turmoil, with its intrinsic highs and lows led me to this career, it seemed a natural path for me to follow. Educating myself in this area has also empowered me to heal and has given me the tools to proactively manage my own mental health, preventing me reaching future crisis points. But best of all, it has put me in the privileged position of being able to help other children and parents who are struggling, by delivering pro-active early interventions that focus on giving them the tools they need to take care of their own mental well-being, as a way to prevent escalation to crisis points.
MORE WORK NEEDS TO BE DONE
I always knew that I wanted to help people as a career, but it was only recently when I truly realised the importance of prioritising our own mental wellbeing first, before we can help other people. Unfortunately many people are still not prioritising this. Despite all the fantastic work that is being carried out to educate the public on the importance of mental health, it is still viewed as a negative concept by many people. Issues with mental health are still viewed as only impacting a small percentage of the population, thus the taboo lingers.
Mental health is yet to be routinely and culturally ingrained within daily conversations, we still don’t talk about it enough, and therefore adults and children do not feel safe to open-up and talk about their own daily battles for fear of stigmatisation. But, just as we all need take care of the physical health of our bodies, we also need to do this with our mental health. In educating ourselves and our children about the importance of taking care of our mental health, we can start to learn proactive coping strategies to try and prevent issues from occurring or escalating, and enable us to strive for a cycle of continuous improvement to being healthier.
Over the past six months I have had an amazing opportunity to work alongside Sam’s Superheroes and their wonderful Therapy Dog, Daisy! We have been exploring and learning together how to bring the benefits of animal assisted therapy into my work with children and families. Daisy has quickly become my partner in crime, and has a remarkable superhero power. What is it I hear you ask? Well, she simply makes people smile, and what an awesome superhero power that is! Daisy certainly puts a smile on my face because she has enabled me to witness first hand, the unique benefits she can bring into people’s lives, and I include myself in that.
I first met Daisy at Bridge the Gap when Rachel, Sam’s mummy, brought her in to meet the team! Rachel shared some wonderful stories about Sam and how her love for him was the driving force behind Sam’s Superheroes. It enabled her to keep create a legacy for her son, and show the true power of Sam’s 'kindness'. The more I get to know Rachel, Daisy and their family the more I feel I actually know Sam. In fact, I have connected so much, it actually feels like I met Sam.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ANIMAL THERAPY?
33% of households in the UK own a dog, and they are the most common pet in the UK. So many of us we all go through life experiencing life with a dog! Having a dog in our lives brings with it a wide range of emotions from love, affection, happiness, joy, relaxation, calmness, peace, contentment, through to distress, loss and grief. They are loyal, playful, caring, non-judgmental, loving and full of mindfulness, the list is endless. Now, why can’t us humans be more like that?
Any animal can be used in animal assisted therapy, but I am focusing on dog assisted therapy. I am also using this alongside nature to enrich our mental health. Last week when Daisy and myself visited a number of Derby schools, I thought about everything that I witnessed over the past few months and it has just reinforced what a powerful force animal therapy is. Daisy brings the following benefits when she works in schools with our children:
improves motivation for learning
improves social interactions and engagement
encourages self-care leading to improved mental wellbeing
encourages mindfulness and calmness
helps children overcome nervousness of dogs
makes everyone SMILE
Working with Daisy also brings some intrinsic benefits to me, just by being in her presence. Over the past few weeks, as the weather has been so beautiful, Daisy, myself and the children have spent a lot of time outside so I could combine the forces of both Daisy and nature to make an even more powerful superhero force! We focused on outdoor scavenger hunts, mindfulness techniques whilst in nature, and physical activity, all of which resulted in the children and myself feeling so much calmer and happier. We were clearly getting a double boost of the feel-good hormone of serotonin courtesy of Daisy and the benefits of being exposed to sunlight!
To conclude my first blog I would just like to thank Daisy for being so awesome, she has already made a huge impact on the lives of our young people in so many ways. But, I would also like to recognise that she has been on her own grief journey over the past 18 months. For let’s not forget she lost her best friend Sam last year, and it is still apparent she misses him. But her powerful connection with Sam, gives her the motivation to connect with children. She even recognises the the emotional state of individuals, and reaches out to support, comfort and play with them. Daisy has made such a significant difference to so many people's lives and I am so proud of her and the remarkable benefits she delivers in my work. So let's all recognise the power of our furry four legged friends and allow gratitude for the experiences we receive and feel from them!!!
The one take away from my blog this week, is,
“Be more Daisy”. Be kind, mindful, enjoy walks in nature and be empathetic. But above all, try and do things to make yourself and others smile!
p.s. feel free to leave me comment!