By Mike McMahan, LPC
An amusing post from Gizmodo calls attention to a new job for the Ewoks after Return of The Jedi. Though some have made a scientific argument that their moon of Endor home would have been demolished by the destruction of the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance, Chuck Wendig came up with a much happier outcome for the furballs in the novel Aftermath: Life Debt:
“Arsad smirks. ‘I could put you in for a therapy Ewok, instead. Some of the native Endor creatures have agreed to travel offworld to help veterans like you recuperate. As a matter of recompense for saving their home.’
‘Oh, yeah, I don’t want one of those. They smell horrible.’”
Personally, I’d be all about an Ewok therapy animal. We all have our down moments, and cuddling up with an Ewok for a screening of The Empire Strikes Back? Sign me up. Who knew they smelled bad? I guess it makes sense, but they seem like giant teddy bears so I assumed they had a nice, fresh smell. I have always questioned their intelligence given that they worshiped C-3PO as a god, but hey, these things happen when you see a golden man. And while the Ewoks get their share of fan hatred, even the most hardened Star Wars nerd can admit they’re a step up from the dreaded Jar-Jar Binks (shudder).
All kidding aside, what do therapy animals actually do? Companion animals and their uses are well-known, specifically their assistance to the blind and sight-impaired. However, they have uses relevant to psychotherapy as well. I mentioned “snuggling” above, but this can be one function they serve, with children especially. Dogs, as we know, are especially lovable and can provide comfort for children recovering from trauma.
In addition, dogs can be trained to sense when their owners are escalating emotionally and in danger of having a panic attack. It seems incredible, but when they sense physical changes they can “alert” (bark) which will let their person take appropriate action, whether it be to use coping skills, take medication or call someone in their support system.
Dogs can also be used in the therapy room. When I was in grad school, one of my fellow therapists had a great Dane, that was a certified therapy animal. This dog could be used in family therapy and would alert if the conversation became too heated. In one of the cases I observed in which the dog participated, the participants were a father and daughter deeply embroiled in a heated conflict. Their job during the session was to speak to each other calmly enough to keep the dog from alerting. I’m sure the massive size of the dog helped! But, in reality, she could not have been a sweeter animal. And the family succeeded in their job, speaking to each other respectfully and relatively calmly. Considering the intensity of their conflict, a major success.
So if you’re lucky enough to have a dog in your life, count yourself blessed. The benefits of owning a pet are myriad and you know they’ll be there for you when you get down. In addition, having an animal depending on you can boost self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose.
Dogs: man’s best friend. Ewoks: a Jedi’s best friend? Um, I’m stretching there. Yep.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture