Students at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., have a unique opportunity to de-stress before exams: puppy therapy.
For the past two school years, the Student Counselling Centre has brought puppies to campus for one day at the end of each semester. Students sign up for a 15- to 20-minute slot so that they can play with the puppies.
“It is by far one of the most popular events that we put on at the counselling centre,” says Claire Weiss, supervisor of counselling services. She adds that there is a branch of counselling therapy called animal-assisted therapy. Decades of research has been done on the health benefits humans can get as a result of interacting with animals.
Weiss is an animal-lover herself who has used animal-assisted therapy in her private practice. When she found out that a Columbia staff member’s spouse breeds mini-Schnauzer puppies and brings them to different communities so that people can benefit from them, booking an appointment for Columbia students was a no-brainer.
For many students, college is a challenging time—particularly at the end of the semester when final papers are due and exams are about to begin.
“There’s often a struggle involved in being a college student . . . and I believe it’s important to balance that out with experiences that bring joy and peace and pleasure,” Weiss says.
Interacting with animals can lower students’ blood pressure and their heart rates, and release endorphins, helping them do better in their coursework.
“We know performance improves when stress levels are lower,” Weiss says, adding that puppy therapy is a non-threatening way for students to establish a relationship with the people at counselling services. “This event brings students into contact with us who we might not otherwise see—people who might be reluctant to come in for counselling.”
Weiss is glad that she has the freedom at Columbia to try things like puppy therapy. “As a community, we’re really invested in bringing a rich set of experiences to the students,” she says. “We care about them and want to offer them whatever we can to give them a healthy experience.”
See more in the Focus on Mental Health series:
On becoming a better person
Walking toward wellness
Shimmering peace in the midst of darkness
Healing for soul and spirit
Mental health and ‘having faith’
Being the church in an age of anxiety
When mental illness drops in at church
Learning to let go