Are universities using therapy dogs in place of counselling?

Therapy dogs have been increasingly turning up at universities across the UK. With exams, coursework and dissertations, student stress is at an all-time high and student unions and societies are trying to help students relax. A cute, cuddly little animal has become the solution.

The logic of using a fluffy animal to make people happy is irrefutable, but many students are concerned with university priorities. Mental health has become an increasing problem for universities with one in four students experiencing some form of mental illness. 63% of students say that they feel stress that interferes with their day to day lives with a majority of it coming from university itself. Much like the NHS, university counselling services are stretched thin and are staffed at a quarter to a third of what is required. For every one full-time counsellor, there are 5000 students to be cared for. This isn’t good enough.

The idea and intention of therapy dogs is a good one. But we have to question whether the funding that goes into these animals could be used in a better way. However, the cost of the dogs is a tiny margin of what’s needed to help fund university counselling services.

There is also the question of those students who are either allergic to dogs, scared of them, or simply don’t like them. What help are they getting to relax?

Many students feel patronised by the idea and think that it reduces the importance of mental health. However, it’s important to note that these services do not pretend to be the solution to the crises many students face.

Some students think universities also need to consider their workloads and the pressure it puts on their students.

It’s not just a problem for UK students.

And some are angry at the idea that therapy dogs are needed at all.

More funding is essential to keep university counselling services going. The mental health care system in the UK is consistently struggling to help those who need it, and students are being increasingly affected by funding cuts to these services. Therapy dogs are a nice idea but are in no way a replacement for genuine mental health care.

Header image credit: The Guardian

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