An Excerpt from, “Better Mental Health, Down on the Farm”
By TARA PARKER-POPE, The New York Times
Working with farm animals may boost coping skills. (James Estrin/The New York Times)
Caring for farm animals appears to offer a therapeutic benefit for people with mental illness, according to new research.
Earlier studies with cats and dogs have shown that animal-human interaction can decrease stress and improve self-confidence and social competence… The use of farms to promote mental health is increasing in Europe and the United States, as various treatment programs offer so-called “green” care, which includes time in community gardens and on farms as a form of therapy.
To determine whether time working with farm animals makes a meaningful difference in mental health, Norwegian researchers studied how life on the farm might affect patients with problems like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders. Reporting in the journal Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, they recruited 90 patients, including 59 women and 31 men, with psychiatric ailments. The vast majority were being treated with antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, mood stabilizers and other medications.
Two-thirds of the patients took part in the farm intervention, where they were asked to work with cows, sheep and horses for three hours a week over a 12-week period. The remaining one-third served as a control group and received standard psychiatric care… During the six-month follow-up, the farm patients reported a statistically significant improvement in self-efficacy and coping skills compared to those who had not spent time working with animals.
The researchers noted that work with farm animals may improve mental health in part because it gives a person physical contact with another living being. Routines that include activities like feeding, milking and caring for other living creatures may also promote self-esteem and confidence.
“Patients may have learned new tasks…and afterwards felt more self-confident,” the authors reported. “The contact with the animals may have produced a pleasurably experienced social interaction that made the patients less afraid of new situations.”
Rory here…. Thats see with that exceptionally cute lamb
I am a big fan of this kind of research, because although I am a psychiatric clinician by trade, I split my time between two worlds- psychiatric hospitals and life skills programming on a farm and in the wilderness. People often ask me which is more impactful. My response is always the same. “you can’t compare the two because they each have their place”. I genuinely believe that. Although there would certainly be some benefit to introducing some farming-type stuff to an inpatient psychiatric unit, clearly the absence of psychiatric medications and structure that the hospital provides would not be conducive to the patients recovery. However, there is a large population that stands to benefit from life skills and farming type modalities, for these clients, I see the results every day, and can only anecdotally speak to the success it helps bring to these young folks. Perhaps one day we will perform some more concrete, evidence-based, research to prove this, but until then you will find me with my students with our hands dirty in the soil, or in the pasture moving sheep.
Rory K. McLaughlin, CEO Northwoods Ranch and Retreat