I wanted to introduce you all to my Counselling Cat - Coco.
For any of my past or current clients you will all be fully aware of Coco - having had the pleasure of spending time with her during our sessions together. But for everyone else I will try and tell you a bit more about her and how she helps my clients during their counselling.
Coco is an 11 year old seal-pointed Ragdoll. For the past four years while I have been working as a private counsellor she has been by my side (as she is an indoor cat it is virtually impossible for her not to be!). Coco is by no means a "therapy cat" per say. A therapy cat can be defined as "a cat trained to help ailing humans in a medically beneficial way to take advantage of the human-animal interaction for purposes of relaxation and healing." Therapy cats are often taken into a number of establishments such as residential homes, hospitals and hospices through to both special needs and main stream schools with the aim of enhancing health and well being of those in these settings.
Nevertheless, over the years I have been astonished by the impact she has had on the clients walking through my door.
When a client arrives, Coco will always run to greet them at the front door. She will say hello to them and then walk with them to the counselling room. Coco will then let the client sit down before going over to have a little sniff and if the client is lucky then she may rub around their ankles.
For the remainder of the session, she will lay down quietly on the floor or a chair and possibly have a little nap. Clients have commented that watching her has helped them to feel more relaxed and less anxious during the session. Others have said that it helps them to feel more at home and comfortable with her present.
Coco is not particularly a cat that likes being fussed - all attention generally has to be on her terms. Despite this she has instinctively picked up a number of times when a client may benefit from some physical comfort and has allowed them to go over and stroke her without so much as a blink. Research has consistently demonstrated that physical interaction with a cat can have a very positive effect on the physiological and psychological well-being of humans. It not only lowers stress levels but also reduces blood pressure.
I have read online that issues with therapists' pets are commonplace - however I have not experienced any real problems with Coco's presence in the counselling room. I do make sure to inform clients in advance that I have an indoor cat as there is a chance that some individuals may not like cats or may have an allergy. This will then let them make an informed decision about whether to proceed with counselling given that information.
There has also been a couple of occasions where she has decided that she wants to play a more vocal part in the session, and has meowed at us or tried to get us to play with her. Situations like this usually add a bit of humour into the session and in fact helps me to build a stronger rapport with my client. A situation actually took place last week when Coco randomly had a sneezing fit in the middle of a counselling session. This caused a few giggles and within a minute we were focused back on our discussion again.
Coco probably doesn't see that she does anything to be of assistance to my clients and I - but I would beg to differ!