Restoring something lost


The mental health impact of therapy dogs in prisons

Dr Graham Durcan
19 December 2018

The mental health benefits of therapy dogs have been demonstrated widely across health care settings. In the light of increasing rates of self-harm and suicide in prisons, we explored whether these benefits could be replicated amongst people in prisons.

Evaluating the work of Rethink Mental Illness in three prison sites, we found that the therapy dogs had a calming influence on prisoners, helped increase coping skills and strategies, and provided a safe space for them to explore ways of expressing and processing emotions.

As a result of this work, we’re calling for:

  • Prisons should make therapy dog intervention, using trained handlers, more widely available
  • Providers of therapy dog intervention should consider group-based activity, and its benefits should be explored through research and evaluation.
  • Research funders should explore therapy dog intervention as an adjunctive therapy with a range of different evidence-based therapies.
  • Prisons and prison health services should explore ways of tackling the stigma related to participation in wellbeing activities such as therapy dog interventions, as part of the developing rehabilitative culture in prisons.


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