In my book, “Know Thyself: A Kid’s Guide to the Archetypes,” I recommend that children watch or play with animals in order to become more aware of the Innocent Archetype — the naturally curious part of our identity. Research into how animals affect our mental health is just in its infancy, but so far there are some compelling studies to suggest that animals can contribute to mental health on a number of levels and across a wide span of ages and mental health problems.
I have done some searching and reading, and here are some good resources on the growing body of evidence that pet ownership and spending time around animals has a positive correlation to physical and mental health.
From Australia, this paper talks about research showing animal-assisted therapy improving mental health for elderly people in nursing homes as well as children diagnosed with ADHD. It also points out that because of financial hardship, pet ownership for some people has become more difficult. It reports that pet ownership was on the decline in Australia due to increased renting and decreasing owning of homes.
The American Humane Association has a good page that talks about animal-assisted work being done with military families and children with cancer. Their hope is that with more clinical trials, animal-assisted therapies will become more mainstream and available for different treatment and caregiving environments.
On this page, Dr. Andrew Weil talks about how animal-assisted therapy and/or pet ownership can alleviate anxiety, depression and social isolation, while improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
My discussion of animals in “Know Thyself” is focused primarily on expressing your Innocent, but there are several archetypes that are expressed when animals are a part of our lives. Animals also call forth our Caregiver as we feed and nurture them, and most of us also know people who express a sense of deeper connection with animals — a sense of animals as Soul Mates. Essentially, animals give us the opportunity to express love, which is the basis for so much of what makes life pleasurable and fulfilling.