Anyone who has ever had an animal companion knows the emotional and mental benefits of having a furry friend by your side. The face licks, the warm cuddles, the tail wags, and the unconditional love makes all the not-so-pleasant parts (ie. poop clean up) worthwhile. Studies have shown that pets can help people with PTSD, but what happens if someone with PTSD isn’t ready for the responsibility or doesn’t have the resources to care for a therapy animal? Upcoming technology reveals that a “Puppy Bot” may be the perfect alternative to a real animal.
Robo vs. Real
Living with a robot animal sounds straight out of a sci-fi sitcom, but in reality it can be a promising alternative in the future of animal companion therapy for PTSD. We already know that animal companions can be an effective part of a treatment plan for Vets with PTSD as well as rekindle feelings of joy, security, and self-worth, but can we expect robotic pets become available soon?
Currently, at Mississippi State University’s Social, Therapeutic, & Robotic Systems Lab, a team is developing a robotic beagle. The Therabot has potential to be a promising alternative for people with PTSD who like the idea of a therapy companion but may be allergic to animals or don’t want to take care a live animal. The team tested out a variety of animals, such as a frog, cat, or bear, but the most popular Therabot was a dog. The Therabots can respond to touch by nuzzling, wagging tails, and even make noises. While the Puppy Bot may sound no different from the robotic dog toys that yip, flip, and even walk on a leash, it is not a toy. It’s created with therapeutic benefits in mind with the goal of mimicking traditional animal therapy.
In addition to not shedding or making a mess in the yard, Therabots can “live longer”. Therabot owners will also have no reason to worry about stressful or costly vet visits or how to deal with making tough decisions about an unconditional friend. Therabots may also be a helpful “transition pet” for PTSD sufferers who hope to have a real animal companion in the future.
Robotic Pet Therapy Can’t Replace Other Treatment Plans
Just like live animal therapy, robotic pet therapy should not and cannot replace other treatment plans for PTSD. No one with PTSD has an identical story and as a result, treatment should be tailored for each individual. So whether one individual has a PTSD treatment plan of medication and cognitive therapy, another individual may have an animal companion and exposure therapy.
What if you aren’t an animal lover? Even though the Therabots are still in the works, they could be created to be any kind of shape. Maybe a “blob” that offers comfort as you hold it in your lap is more your style. Whatever type of therapy you prefer, stick with something that will make you feel more in control of your life, regain “normalcy” in your life, and feel the happiness you deserve.