Emotional Support Animals

The Healing Power of Emotional Support Animals

Animals can provide unparalleled support to trauma survivors attempting to cope with the emotional, mental, and physical aftermath of a traumatic event. Pets that can offer support through the healing journey are often referred to as emotional support animals. Emotional support animals differ from working service animals, which are rigorously trained for a person’s individual needs. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, need no formal training to provide natural healing.

How Emotional Support Animals Can Help with PTSD and TBI?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem brought about by experiencing or witnessing a potentially fatal event. This may be as a result of witnessing a serious accident, combat, natural disasters, physical assault, and other incidents where the threat of suffering a serious injury or even losing your life is very real. PTSD manifests itself differently in different people, but there are common symptoms such as anxiety, being unable to sleep, experiencing nightmares, and developing certain fears related to the event.

In addition, following a serious injury, a person’s life can change in significant ways. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can impact a person’s physical abilities, cognitive abilities, mental health, and emotional well-being. TBIs vary in intensity and can have a dramatically different impact on a survivor’s day-to-day life.

Military personnel who are exposed to combat violence are strongly at risk for developing PTSD and experiencing TBI. In fact, it has been estimated that approximately 23% of veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are impacted by PTSD. How can emotional support animals alleviate these symptoms and help those with PTSD and TBI cope?


Emotional support animals soothe their owners by simply being present as a loving companion, silently offering support and connection. The calming, soothing effect of their company alone eases loneliness, alleviates anxiety, and elevates mood levels. Emotional support animals provide an emotional constancy and physical presence that trauma survivors can rely upon in their daily lives. Having a loving, reliable friend along for the rollercoaster ride of life with PTSD and TBI helps people feel they are not dealing with their struggles alone.


Animals accept people as they are. As a result, this can help trauma survivors in turn accept themselves. Self-acceptance is essential to the healing process following the survival of a traumatic event. Animals love their owners unconditionally and accept them without question. Consequently, emotional support animals encourage their owners to love themselves unconditionally and accept themselves the way they are.


People with PTSD may find themselves over-thinking, ruminating on, and re-experiencing what happened to them. Practicing living in the present moment is essential for trauma survivors to prevent reliving these haunting memories and truly live their life. Emotional support animals can help their owners become mindful and aware of the present moment, rather than lost in the past. Whether it is taking their dog on a walk, petting them, or simply sitting with them in silence, emotional support animals help physically root trauma survivors in the present moment.


When people are mindful of and able to prioritize taking care of themselves and satisfying their basic needs, they are taking care of their physical and mental well-being. If a person isn’t addressing their daily needs, they most likely will not be able to address their symptoms of anxiety and depression either.

Our pets demonstrate the need for daily self-care. When our pets are tired, they sleep. When they are hungry, they eat. Taking care of our pets can help remind a person that their needs matter, too. Addressing basic needs, such as hunger, sleep, hygiene, and exercise put a trauma survivor in the best position to heal and move forward.

Mood Boost

Another important way emotional support animals help those with PTSD is by helping increase oxytocin levels. Scientific studies have observed and confirmed the release of oxytocin as a result of animal interaction. Oxytocin is a chemical that can help trauma survivors battle negative emotions by slowing their heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and preventing the production of stress hormones. As a result, increased oxytocin levels help people feel calm and peaceful.

The Epic Artwork Story 

Epic Artwork & Photo all started in 2005 when Andrew Bourne was deployed to Iraq at the Syrian border. He needed a camera for intelligence reasons, so his wife Karen sent him a digital camera. He also photographed the life of the Iraqi people around him. After he returned to the states in 2006 and Karen had a chance to finally view all the images that he took, she realized that Andrew had captured beautiful and harrowing images that later earned him a gallery show.

While in Iraq, Andrew suffered a traumatic brain injury. When he was finally diagnosed in 2008, he was told he needed a hobby to help rework the neurons in his brain, so when he brought up doing live event photography to Karen, she encouraged him to do so. Not only was live event photography a tangible exercise in therapeutic mindfulness, but it also engaged the brain and encouraged the development of neuroplasticity.

Andrew and Karen Bourne are a traveling photography duo with incredible experience and passion. Check out Epic Artwork and Photo’s portfolio here to explore their live event photography and the images Andrew captured in Iraq.

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