Pets therapeutic for borderline personality disorder, new research shows

Neelima Choahan

13/07/2018 2:12:31 PM

People living with borderline personality disorder may enjoy a better quality of life by owning a pet, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Participants in the study said their pets help them socialise and make friends.
Participants in the study said their pets help them socialise and make friends.

Lara*, who lives with borderline personality disorder, often thought of suiciding.
But what saved her was the through of her pet dog, Honey. 
‘I think I would have committed suicide a long time ago if I didn’t have a dog,’ Lara said.
‘I could convince myself that everyone else is better off without me, I could convince
myself that I’d be doing everyone else a favour, but I couldn’t convince myself that of Honey.’
Having a four-legged companion may help those living with borderline personality disorder gain better social skills, get connected with the community and have improved coping skills, a new research has found.
The Curtin University-led study, published in the journal Advances in Mental Health, examined the experiences of eight people aged between 18–65 years, living with borderline personality disorder, who were accompanied by either a dog, cat, rat or bird.
Lead author Dr Julie Netto, from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, said the research aimed to explore the impact of pet ownership on the emotions, interactions and activities of those who live with borderline personality disorders.
‘Pet ownership is commonly associated with many psychological benefits, including companionship, social support, improved self-esteem and attachment development,’ Dr Netto said.
‘Our research aimed to determine whether pet ownership could help adults living with borderline personality disorder who may often have emotional and social challenges.
‘We found that pet ownership can provide meaning and purpose, influence positive emotional attachments, influence positive social connections, promote participation and engagement in meaningful activities, and have therapeutic value for people with borderline personality disorder.’
According to the research, borderline personality disorder is characterised by emotional instability, difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships, and distorted self-image.
The prevalence of the disorder within Australia is estimated at between 1 – 6%, but people with borderline personality disorder account for 43% of inpatients and 23% of outpatients in Australian mental health services.
People diagnosed with borderline personality disorder may engage in impulsive, self-harming, or suicidal behaviours in response to feelings of abandonment. 
However, all participants in the study described how their pet facilitated engagement in routine activities related to pet care, including feeding, walking, and grooming. Pet ownership also promoted participation in activities beyond pet care, including self-care, new hobbies, social connections and other interests.
Having a pet encouraged people to access and engage with their community, although participants said there were also challenges associated with pet ownership, including financial strain.
Participants also reflected on negative feelings associated with pet ownership, including guilt, worry, and fear. The thought of their pets becoming injured or dying was also a
Four participants reported the pets had a calming influence on their mood. One reported that having a pet reduced the amount of time spent in a ‘negative headspace’. Another reported getting ‘stuck’ in a cycle of negative thoughts, but the pets facilitated breaking that cycle by providing opportunities to focus their attention elsewhere.
Dr Netto said the findings further supported the pivotal role of pets for therapeutic treatments.
‘Previous research suggests that pet ownership can be used to positively impact children, people with chronic illnesses and the elderly. Our findings show that animal companionship may also help support the personal recovery journeys for people specifically with borderline personality disorder,’ she said.
‘Further research is needed to explore the connection between the two factors, but our findings hold promise and may be of interest to mental health clinicians who may utilise the therapeutic value of pets to improve the lives of people living with the disorder.
‘There isn’t anything out there that looks at how pet ownership can help people with borderline personality disorder.’
Dr Netto said they are also conducting researching into how clinicians can help patients utilise their pets as part of therapy.
‘If a person does have a pet, what you could say to them is “if you are distressed, you could pat your pet and it could soothe you”,’ she said.
‘It’s using whatever tools they have at home so the person can integrate whatever they are learning in a clinical setting into their own lives.’

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

borderline personality disorder Mental Health

newsGP weekly poll What area of medicine do you find most difficult to stay across the changing clinical evidence?

newsGP weekly poll What area of medicine do you find most difficult to stay across the changing clinical evidence?



Login to comment

Elizabeth   22/06/2019 10:19:47 PM

I have just bought a puppy for my daughter who has BPD. I know this is going to help her. She looks so happy it is wonderful to see.

Consuelo Leon   20/09/2019 10:47:55 AM

My son was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and he is 26 years of age and I’m interested in getting him a therapy dog.