Dogs, cats become partners in UPLB’s mental health program

Animal doctors may soon become a common sight in the campus, with the launching of a new mental health program led by the Office of Counseling and Guidance (OCG).

The UPLB BARKada at CATropa Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) Program was launched by the OCG on Nov. 29 and will be conducted to help alleviate depression and anxiety among students and personnel.

The program name is a play on the words “barkada” and “ka-tropa” which can both be translated as “group of friends.”

The program is led by Dr. Maria Catalina T. De Luna, a member of Kalingang UPLB, the University’s Ad hoc Committee on Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellness, and a steward of Communitails Philippines. She is also a faculty member at CVM, and the director of the UP Professional School for Agriculture and Environment.

Dr. De Luna said that the program aims to promote human and animal socialization to reduce the negative effects of isolation and depression. She explained that humans are social and emotional beings that have a strong need to communicate and empathize with others, and that some animals can also be highly social and can reciprocate these interactions with humans.

She discussed that AAIs can be classified into three types: animal-assisted activities (AAA), animal-assisted education (AAE), and animal-assisted therapy (AAT). The BARKada at CATropa program will be focusing on AAA and AAT.

AAAs are less-structured casual activities that aim to enhance the participants’ quality of life and promote mutual healing for both humans and animals.

AATs include animals as a form of treatment to help people recover or better cope with health problems and disorders.

The program was launched at the culmination of the Sandigan, Sandalan: UPLB Training Program for Peer Mental Health Advocates where OCG recognized 39 students who completed the training to become peer mental health advocates and become partners in promoting mental health awareness.

Sandigan, Sandalan completers can become PAWcilitators by going through the AAI training.

Those who will finish the AAI and animal wellness training can become a kaPAWtner (partner) and work in pairs with their animal companion. If they are trained veterinarians, they can join the AAW Team and be part of the program’s animal screening and animal welfare activities.

OCG is a unit under the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. (Jessa Jael S. Arana)

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