“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”Martin Buber
When feelings of dysphoria become overwhelming, it can feel suffocating and very alienating for anyone—and especially trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) folx who are not out or do not feel they have a support network in place. On top of this, it can be difficult to find a clinician to work with who offers a therapy style that is appealing and comfortable to trans people, as traditional talk therapy can become frustrating if your practitioner does not have a firm grasp on trans-inclusive language and community issues.
Not Ready to Talk About it Yet?
Animals offer a beautiful opportunity for us to bridge that gap of uncertainty and anxiety between client and clinician. Therapy and service animals, particularly dogs, are trained to be attuned to our body language, down to microexpressions in some cases! This training is important so that they can step in and give us support: whether that comes in the form of completing specific tasks like opening doors and cabinets, requesting petting, laying next to us as company, or simply giving us affection to remind us that we are not alone.
There are opportunities for animal-assisted counseling across the country with a variety of species (most commonly seen are dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses), and numerous sites in Colorado alone that allow clients to work with both an animal and human therapist simultaneously.
However, not everyone has access to this type of care—but you do not necessarily need a trained therapy animal to find comfort from their companionship. Household pets are also an often-overlooked source of support for people struggling with feelings of dysphoria, depression, anxiety, and more. It can be a very harsh world to navigate as someone who identifies under the umbrella of trans identities, and our household pets are wonderful reminders that despite other people’s opinions, animals do not hold any preconceived notions. They are just happy to love you and be loved—no matter how you identify, your pets will be there to give you unconditional support.
While limited research has been conducted regarding stuffed animals as replacements for living non-human animals, early findings seem promising. That being said, in our collective personal experience, hugging a stuffed animal can be therapeutic for many of the same reasons that folx are comforted by living, breathing animals. Especially for trans and GNC youth who have had negative experiences with animal companions or don’t have the financial resources to support a living non-human animal, stuffed animals can be a low-maintenance and cost-effective alternative.