By Ann Chiappetta
Yesterday was the last session with a long-time client. It’s a common occurrence for clients in therapy to come and go, many of them skipping out on treatment before completion or because of resistance. This is the nature of the business, the drawback of our profession, and oftentimes we never see them again.
Yesterday, however, was a different kind of leave-taking. The client, whom I will refer to as J, was relocating after a year of counseling. She worked on long-term episodic bouts of anxiety and depression, physical limitations resulting from injuries and moral injuries from years of severe alcoholism and emotional and physical abuse.
She came in highly emotive, often using my guide dog for impromptu pet therapy. My dog, of course, complied and they bonded. Whenever J came in for sessions, Verona jumped up and greeted her like a long lost friend. I think this simple and unremarkable gesture did more for J and any talk therapy ever did or could do. It was unconditional regard from warm dark eyes and a wagging tail. From then on, I wondered, if I didn’t have Verona, would J have done so well in treatment.
In any case, J progressed through the hills and valleys of therapy, first being resistant to transitioning to me from her former therapist and then on to developing trust. The second six months of treatment was J’s most productive time. She worked to push herself past the depression even when it compromised her ability to leave her home. She came in even when she refused to go out for anything else. She missed merely a handful of sessions. Verona was there for her each time, lying on the floor beside J’s chair, letting J stroke her for however long she needed. I like to think J did so well due to our bond, but I know better.
In the last session she did let slip that she took a chance on me because her former therapist added that I had a service dog. Does this effect my self esteem as a counselor? After much soul searching, and petting Verona, I think I’d rather have a dog as a co-therapist. I mean no disrespect to my former co-therapists and colleagues – it’s just, well, there’s something special about being able to sit down on the floor with a dog and benefit from petting away the stress, sadness, or pain.
I encourage all my clients to take a moment before starting a session to greet Verona. Once a client returns, the person becomes one of her “people”, and if we meet them outside the session room, she greets them as if the person was a long lost family member. She does not do this for the general public, only for those whom she knows from the session room.
She also knows when a client doesn’t want to pet her and with the dignity only a dog possesses, she will go to her mat and take a nap.
On one occaision, she alerted me when someone entered the center who didn’t belong there by barking twice and going to the back door. How she knew this person didn’t belong is a mystery but it may have saved us from being robbed.
I am telling you this because I never expected a guide dog to be so versatile. I didn’t really know what to expect but I would like to believe I was blessed with an especially intelligent and highly perceptive companion. I sure hope she thinks I’m her equal.