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Symposium Speakers Series: The Role of Therapy Dogs in Eating Disorder Recovery

The 9th Annual Veritas Collaborative Virtual Symposium on Eating Disorders brings together our community of experts and other leaders in the field to share insights and advance our understanding of what it means to provide best-practice eating disorder care across different treatment modalities. Our Symposium Speaker Series introduces the keynote presenters and topics that will be explored at the virtual Symposium.

Stacie McEntyre, MSW, LCSW, CEDS-S, F.iaedp™​, is the Founder and Vice Chair of Veritas Collaborative. Having specialized in the treatment of eating disorders since 1991, Stacie continues to foster strong, collaborative relationships with healthcare professionals, patients, and their families, and focus on access to care for all people with eating disorders diagnoses.

 

Caroline Credille, MSN, PNP – AC, is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Veritas Collaborative’s Child, Adolescent & Young Adult Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Caroline has spent most of her professional years practicing as a board-certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and transitioned to the Veritas team in 2019.

 

Courtney Schauder, RD, CEDRD​, is Lead Dietitian at Veritas Collaborative’s Child, Adolescent & Young Adult Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Courtney is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) who has been treating eating disorders since 2008.

 

There is something special about the connection between people and dogs that can be difficult to describe but easy to feel. We know that navigating eating disorder treatment can create anxiety and stress for our patients and family members, and therapy dogs can be incredibly valuable in easing these emotions. We sat down with Stacie McEntyre, Caroline Credille, and Courtney Schauder, to discuss their upcoming presentation, Tail-Waggin’ Treatment: The Role of Certified Therapy Dogs in Recovery. This presentation will focus on the data behind therapy dog engagement, offer real patient stories with our therapy dogs, and discuss how pet therapy can help people with eating disorders and families throughout the recovery process. Our certified therapy dogs will also make appearances throughout the presentation!

Veritas Collaborative: Can you talk about the benefits of pet therapy for individuals with eating disorders and their families?

Stacie: Working with therapy dogs elevates mood, establishes a warm environment, and provides comfort for patients and their families, including siblings. Our dogs also help us discuss and model basic self-care, which is especially helpful for those who may not believe self-care is deserved. For example, I might say to a patient that just as my therapy dog Stella needs food, it’s important for all of us to get the food we need so we can have healthy bodies and live our best lives.

Caroline: Pet therapy has been proven to provide both physical and emotional stress relief. The presence of our certified therapy dogs allows our patients to slow down and use the skills they were taught during their treatment, helping them achieve and maintain recovery more efficiently.

Courtney: Research shows that interactions with therapy dogs can increase oxytocin and dopamine while lowering levels of cortisol and thereby stress. Our dogs can encourage communication, lift spirits, create motivation, and increase a sense of community. Being greeted by one of our dogs in the lobby helps relieve anxiety when patients first enter treatment.

Veritas Collaborative: What does pet therapy look like at Veritas Collaborative?

Stacie: Our certified therapy dogs are trained for many activities. They greet patients and visitors in the lobby, which is a tremendous help for nervous families. They’re present in group sessions,

in classrooms, and during outdoor time. We bring them along on individual “house calls” to see specific patients when requested and we have them keep siblings company while their parents are engaged in programming with patients. And they also provide a really important service for the staff—petting one of our dogs gives us all comfort as well!

Courtney: Our therapy dogs are involved in one-on-one sessions. They also provide welcome distraction after mealtimes when anxiety levels are high, and they’re especially active during spirit weeks and holidays.

Caroline: In the presentation, I’ll also be sharing how my therapy dog Jethro works with me to provide stress relief during follow-up visits when conversations regarding medical outcomes and treatment changes can often feel scary for families and patients.

Veritas Collaborative: Can you tell us about Veritas Collaborative’s certified therapy dogs?

Stella

Stacie: My certified therapy dog is Stella, a 10-year-old tri-colored Collie. Stella’s gentle nature and her own experience with challenges have led her to embrace her therapy dog training. She has become an integral part of the Veritas Collaborative eating disorder treatment program – capturing the hearts of patients and families.

 

 

Jethro

Caroline: I’d describe Jethro as a kind, quiet presence who takes his work very seriously. He enjoys sitting or lying close to patients so they can pet him when they are comfortable. He’ll wait for patients to come to him and engage, rather than ask for attention.

 

 

Ernie

Courtney: At Veritas, Ernie has been told that “he’s always smiling!” He is happy every day to see our patients and staff and enjoys relieving stress and anxiety for others with playful antics or giving you his paw. And all three dogs are passionate about bringing hope to our patients for recovery!

 

 

Veritas Collaborative: Are there any memorable stories you can share about patient connections with Veritas’ certified therapy dogs?

Courtney: Ernie loves to visit our patients in Partial Hospitalization (PHP) while they are in the group room right after a meal, where he’ll show off his tricks. ​This distraction is a Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) technique that allows patients to tolerate the distress of having completed a meal. We also have fun letting the patients do tricks with him and showing newcomers how to have fun with Ernie, too.

Stacie: We had a 13-year-old patient who had difficulty getting out of bed the day after admission until Stella paid a visit to the girl’s room with her therapist. The patient became very interested

in Stella and agreed to get out of bed to do some tricks with her. After tricks and treats, Stella was thirsty, so the patient accompanied Stella down the hall for water, and then took Stella into the restroom while she completed her morning hygiene routine. By that point, our patient was engaged in her day, and for days after that, she got out of bed to see Stella.

Caroline: During the presentation, I’ll share one of the most moving experiences I’ve had Jethro. I’ll save the details for the presentation, but it involves a patient I was seeing for medical follow-up who had to hear that her weight and vital signs were not improving as needed. Jethro was able to ease my patient’s apprehension and helped her achieve acceptance and genuine interest as I shared the hard news. The presence of a calm, attentive animal tells our brains that there is no immediate threat, and so Jethro’s peaceful presence helped my patient understand that she was truly safe. It was such a meaningful experience and helped change the way I communicate with my patients.

Veritas Collaborative: What’s the one thing you hope attendees learn about pet therapy from your presentation?

Stacie: I hope they experience therapy dogs as a vital role in the therapeutic process. Our sweet dogs have been highly trained to be adaptable in a wide range of situations and scenarios in their efforts to assist our patients, families, and staff alike. My favorite part is that our dogs remind our patients that there is a life worth living after recovery!

Courtney: People will hopefully come away with an understanding of how valuable our furry friends are within eating disorder treatment, and the differences between the types of animal assistance.

Caroline: My hope is that medical providers see that animal-assisted therapy can be used not just in therapy sessions or group settings, but also during medical visits in a safe and efficacious manner. I want other medical providers to see how useful animal-assisted therapy can be in difficult discussions about medical care and needs with patients and families.


The 9th Annual Veritas Collaborative Virtual Symposium on Eating Disorders is your path to advanced knowledge of best-practice care for diverse populations and up to 26.0 continuing education credits. Register today to help us change the conversation, and ultimately, change the field of eating disorder treatment for the better—and for everyone. Use code VERITAS2020 for 20% off the Three-Day Symposium Package.