North East London Foundation Trust Senior Mental Health Practitioner and Research Link Nurse, Cara Johnston, works within the Essex Mental Health Support Team (MHST) with her dog, Peaches to deliver support and therapy to young people.
Cara and three-year-old golden retriever, Peaches, work with schools to support children, young people, their parents, and staff with their mental health and wellbeing through 1:1s, coffee mornings, assemblies, and workshops.
The mental health practitioner has conducted research into therapy dogs and children’s mental health and completed a study on the impact on young people in group sessions, showing potential for higher engagement, reductions in anxiety levels and quicker discharge.
Cara, who has been with NELFT for six years, said: “It is important to build a relationship and rapport with the young people to help them through their therapy.
“Normally, all my appointments are done sitting on the floor, as the kids will want to sit with Peaches, and they would be stroking her and just talking because they feel relaxed.''
Sometimes, when young people deflect and talk about Peaches instead of themselves Cara uses the dog as an example, knowing what calms her down and what riles her up, and this helps them to open up and give examples from their own life.
Cara, who will be continuing her research into animal assisted therapy and mental health, said:
“When my colleagues come out of a difficult appointment and spend time with Peaches, I can see the positive effect it has on them and how therapy dogs can benefit not only patients but staff wellbeing as well.”