Pets as Therapy

Well I’m debating getting a pet – current thoughts are a hamster or a pair of guinea pigs.

Many years ago when I was relatively new to psychiatric services my then psychiatrist suggested I get a pet as this might help me.

Shortly thereafter I got two guinea pigs, Babs and Hetty, then it got out of hand and I ended up with 13 guinea pigs for while which was more than I could manage.

How useful this was for grounding I’m unsure – on one level I had to look after them so it kept me grounded a bit; on the other hand I used to have conversations with them that to me were as real to me as conversations with people.

I found guinea pigs are better listeners though!

There were certainly helpful at keeping me emotionally more grounded when they were closely around me, and gave me a sense that I could be depended upon and so I wan’t just a person that needed other people, I could give support too.

Whether this was truly animal-assisted therapy I do not know; but from what I can gather dogs, cats, equines and dolphins are more commonly used.  In some way it helped me, which I suppose what mattered most.

Being Literal

I spend a lot of time analysing what people say to me; for a variety of reasons – but a major one is “What do they actually mean?”

People have a habit of not saying what they mean; and I don’t mean telling lies (that is a whole other problem for me).  People use proverbs and hyperbole, and I find that very confusing.

When in less distressed states or less “noisy” states I can often work out that the person didn’t mean what they said, but rarely can I determine what they actually meant to say  Although common statements that I’ve met before and have been explained can usually be inferred – a thesaurus of phrases in a way exists in my head.

I do often have the ability to rationalise that I don’t want to do what they said; although if I’m in a more suggestible state there is the potential for me to go through with what’s suggested if it’s a plausible option; for instance “why don’t you just kick the bucket” then I will kick the bucket.

If the statement is totally implausible I will normally know straight away that it is so; for instance if someone says “I’m on cloud 9” I will immediately know they aren’t on a cloud, but probably can’t work out exactly what they mean beyond experience telling me they are probably elated about something.

If someone states as an argument “blood is thicker than water” I may just take this as a commentary on the comparative viscosity of  two liquids.

In essence, when talking to me it is best to say what you mean in the first place – this isn’t to say I don’t use hyperbole myself without realising it – but often I use hyperbole that only make sense to myself!

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is one of the major symptoms of schizoaffective disorder; alongside mania/hypomania and depression.

The symptoms of psychosis consist of two different elements: hallucinations and delusional thinking.

Hallucinations are observations that no one else can observe.  These can be auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory or olfactory in nature, and thus can affect all five senses.

Delusional thinking, meanwhile, is an absolute certainty in a thought or an idea that even evidence to the contrary does not shake.

The psychosis component of illnesses such as schizoaffective disorder are treated with antipsychotic medication (also known as major tranquilizers or neuroleptics) to reduce these symptoms.



What is schizoaffective disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a psychiatric condition that has features of schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder (manic depression).  It affects mood, thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

The major symptoms of the disorder are psychosis, mania and depression.  Psychosis presents as hallucinations and delusional thinking; mania and depression as extremes of mood.

The diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder happens if you have episodes of mental ill-health experiencing:

  • psychotic symptoms
  • mood symptoms of bipolar disorder
  • both psychotic and mood symptoms at the simultaneously or within a fortnight of each other

The disorder comes in 3 main sub-types: manic type, depressive type and mixed type.  These determinations depend upon what mood type presents with the psychosis, and are defined in the ICD-10 section F25.

Schizoaffective disorder also manifests in positive and negative symptoms.  Positive symptoms are experiences that people without schizoaffective disorder do not observe; for instance, hearing voices.  Negative symptoms, on the other hand, are seen as a lack of functions that most people possess, such as an inability to feel pleasure.

It is usual to experience a mix of these symptoms; however, negative symptoms are more difficult to treat, and they often persist when positive symptoms are being effectively treated.