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Resident of the WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital for several months “DOGtor”, Mocha, has served the emotional needs of employees and patients alike. As the official emotional support dog for the hospital, she now serves in a clinical role as part of a psychological treatment plan known as exposure therapy.
Mocha, who is led by Cara Gazdik, the hospital’s clinical director of nursing, recently took part in the treatment of a patient by psychologist Dr. John McFadden of the Wheeling Hospital Family Health Center assists. The patient, a little girl paralyzed by her anxiety disorder – especially her fear of dogs – met in a series of sessions with McFadden, Gazdik, and Mocha to alleviate her phobia.
In a safely controlled environment, they slowly began to expose her to what she fears most – dogs. She showed fear early on when she was introduced to Mocha. But with each session, McFadden made steady progress.
“If a fear becomes strong enough, it can seriously affect a person’s life.” said McFadden.
“Whether the fear is to ride in an elevator, to fly on an airplane, to walk over a bridge or a little girl who is so afraid of animals and insects that it cannot be outside in the summer, her paralyzing one Fear strongly affects their quality of life. With exposure therapy as part of our comprehensive treatment plan, our goal is to overcome anxiety. “
Therapy involves desensitizing patients by exposing them to what they fear, what makes them afraid or panic. The exposure is increased in small doses, gradually escalating in the degree of interaction.
According to McFadden, anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric conditions diagnosed in childhood. Exposure-based therapy is highly effective in patients with anxiety disorders and, in his opinion, should be used early in the treatment of such patients.
“The progress made with each session is undeniable and slowly curbs your debilitating phobia.” said McFadden. “We started therapy by simply putting her in the same room without physical contact, then we moved on to brief interactions between the little girl and Mocha. Finally, Cara took the dog to the girl’s school and she felt comfortable enough to keep her on a leash throughout the meeting and teach her classmates Mocha’s job and responsibility in the hospital. “
Gazdik adopted Mocha through the Road Home Animal Project in St. Clairsville.
Mocha received specialized training through a specially tailored program that considered a dog’s specific needs and characteristics for emotional support in a hospital setting.
“There were certain conditions and situations that Mocha needed to be accustomed to and we wanted her to be socialized with people of different ages.” said Gazdik. “She is calm, patient, and gentle, so she really suited the clinical needs of this particular situation perfectly.”
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