Pets and Mental Wellness: Dr Ree Langham Of Impulse On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pets and Mental Wellness: Dr Ree Langham Of Impulse On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Training and Learning: Engage in training sessions. It fosters communication and strengthens bonds. For instance, the client I mentioned earlier with the dog, Bella. Used dog training as a bonding activity, helping her navigate any communication issues she was having with her partner.

Pets have always been more than just companions; they play a pivotal role in enhancing our mental well-being. From the unconditional love of a dog to the calming presence of a cat, pets have a unique way of alleviating stress, anxiety, and loneliness. But how do we truly harness the therapeutic potential of our furry, feathered, or scaled friends? How can they aid in promoting mindfulness, reducing depression, or even enhancing social interactions? In this interview series, we are talking to veterinarians, psychologists, therapists, pet trainers, and other experts who can shed light on how to maximize the mental health benefits of having a pet. As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. R. Y. Langham.

Dr. R. Y. Langham is a licensed child and family psychologist holding a Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University, and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology from Capella University.

With over a decade of experience Dr. R. Y. Langham has been successfully treating OCD and related disorders using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with elements of mindfulness and compassion-focused therapy.

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Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

Growing up in a close-knit family in the southern U.S., I was always drawn to the complexities and intricacies of human relationships. From a young age, I was the family’s unofficial mediator, always trying to understand the underlying emotions and thoughts that fueled our interactions. It was this passion that led me to pursue a Bachelor’s in Psychology and subsequently, my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University. Wanting to delve deeper into the field, I pursued a Ph.D. in Family Psychology from Capella University. My studies focused on the patterns of behavior within families and how they affect individual members’ psychological well-being.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

During the early years of my practice, I had a family come in for therapy who were struggling to communicate after a traumatic event. Each member had built their own emotional walls, making healing nearly impossible. Throughout our sessions, it was evident that each family member felt isolated in their own pain. One day, as an exercise, I asked them to draw their feelings on paper, and as each person shared their drawings, something incredible happened. The pictures were strikingly similar, showcasing loneliness and a longing for connection. It was a turning point for the family; realizing they were not alone in their feelings led to breakthrough conversations and a stronger bond than ever before. This experience reinforced my belief in the power of open communication and shared understanding.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The Family Crucible” by Augustus Y. Napier and Carl Whitaker deeply impacted my approach to family therapy. This book offers a real-life account of a family’s journey through therapy, showcasing the challenges, breakthroughs, and intricacies of the therapeutic process. It resonated with me because it highlighted the importance of understanding each family as a unique system with its own dynamics. While theoretical knowledge is essential, the practical insights from “The Family Crucible” have continuously informed my practice, reminding me of the resilience of families and the transformative power of therapy.

Can you share a personal story about how a pet has helped you or someone you know to improve mental wellness?

Certainly. My nephew, after coming back from military deployment, faced significant challenges reintegrating into civilian life. He struggled with PTSD and felt isolated. Then he adopted a dog named Max. Max provided a non-judgmental presence and unconditional love. Over time, their bond helped my nephew find a routine, purpose, and most importantly, a companion who helped him navigate his darkest days.

While human interaction is essential for emotional well-being, in what ways do interactions with pets offer unique benefits that human relationships might not provide?

Pets provide unconditional love and non-judgmental support. They don’t bring up past mistakes or harbor grudges. Their consistent presence can be grounding for many people, especially those facing emotional challenges.

How do pets help biologically and psychologically?

Pets, like dogs and cats, release oxytocin in both the pet and the human during positive interactions. Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” and it helps to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels, and elevate mood. Psychologically, pets provide a routine, companionship, and a sense of purpose — all crucial elements for mental well-being.

In the backdrop of global events, how have you seen pets playing a role?

During the recent pandemic, pet adoption rates skyrocketed. People found solace and routine in caring for animals. In therapy, I’ve seen the introduction of pets, like therapy dogs, in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, providing comfort and reducing anxiety.

How can individuals choose the right pet?

It’s crucial to assess one’s lifestyle, environment, and emotional needs. Some might benefit from the active companionship of a dog, while others might find solace in the quiet observance of fish or the unique interaction with a bird or reptile.

How does taking care of a pet contribute to mental well-being?

Care routines instill responsibility and create structure. They also reinforce the caregiver role, which can be deeply fulfilling and provide a tangible sense of purpose.

Five Ways To Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet:

  1. Routine and Structure: Establish and maintain a regular schedule for your pet. This provides a sense of normalcy. For example, one of my clients dealing with depression, found solace in the routine walks with her dog, Bella.
  2. Engage in Activities: Pets can be a great motivator to get outside or try new hobbies. Another client took up dog agility training, which not only engaged her dog but also introduced her to a new community.
  3. Mindful Interaction: Spend quiet moments with your pet, petting, or simply being together. I’ve personally found solace in just watching my fish swim after a stressful day. Focusing on something like another animal’s existence and interaction with the world around them can be a very grounding experience.
  4. Training and Learning: Engage in training sessions. It fosters communication and strengthens bonds. For instance, the client I mentioned earlier with the dog, Bella. Used dog training as a bonding activity, helping her navigate any communication issues she was having with her partner.
  5. Socialization: Pets can be social bridges, helping their owners connect with others. A shy teen I counseled found it easier to interact with peers when they approached to pet her dog.

The loss of a pet can be deeply traumatic. How can individuals navigate this grief?

The grief of losing a pet is profound and can mirror the loss of a human loved one. It’s essential to allow oneself to mourn, seek support, and commemorate the pet. There’s a reason many people will still keep pictures and paintings of their pets on display. It provides a tangible way to remember and celebrate the pet’s life. The impact losing a pet can have on mental health is substantial, often requiring a similar grief process, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

If you could inspire a movement, what would that be?

I’d inspire a global movement of “Compassionate Listening.” In today’s divided world, taking a moment to truly listen to someone else, without judgment or interruption, can bridge immense divides.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch?

I would cherish a meal with Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability and courage has deeply influenced my approach to therapy. I believe our discussions on the human experience would be enlightening.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at 

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