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Clinical Examples  | Patients' and Parents'  |  Clinicians

Please note, names have been changed to protect patient privacy.

Clinical Examples

13 yr old male with anorexia nervosa
He arrived to his weekly therapy session very upset. Prior to coming, he had had a conflict with his mother because she caught him hiding food. His mother came into the session and described the incident and then left to allow me to meet with her son. The patient sat looking tearful but he was fighting crying. Murphy seemed to sense his upset and he jumped onto the chair next to him. I told the patient that he could hug Murphy if he would like. He grabbed Murphy into his arms and cried freely. He later described the enormous relief it was to let himself cry and the great comfort that Murphy provided.

14 yr old female with anorexia nervosa
This was an initial consult meeting with her parents. Her father first agreed that it was fine for Murphy to be in the room but then paused and wanted reassurance that Murphy is hypoallergenic since he has allergies. I offered to remove Murphy but the father declined. Murphy laid under the desk initially but both parents then chose to pet and play with him. The father marveled at how he felt no allergic reaction to Murphy and at Murphy’s level of affection and his calming effect. By the end of the meeting, the parents were discussing the possibility of getting a dog “just like Murphy” to benefit their daughter, as well as their younger son who has autism.
15 yr old female with anorexia nervosa
This patient was brought for an evaluation by her parents with their warning that she was very resistant to coming to the appointment and that she had fired two prior therapists. At our first meeting, she had an immediate positive response to Murphy and talked enthusiastically about how much she loved dogs. By the end of the hour-long session, she turned to leave and said, “I guess I can wait a week to see Murphy again.” She came back willingly to the next appointment.

15 yr old female with bulimia
We were having a rare mother-daughter session. She has a distant and conflicted relationship with her mother. Midway through the session, they got into a heated argument and she burst into tears. Murphy had been lying under the desk but got up immediately and went over to her. She reached down and stroked him for a few minutes as she regained her composure. The session continued then and he walked back over to lie under the desk.

17 yr old female with anorexia nervosa

She arrived to her weekly therapy session crying hysterically. Both parents accompanied her and they looked very distraught as well. All three of them rushed into my office and the mother asked if her daughter could hold Murphy immediately. (She knew him well from prior sessions). The patient scooped Murphy up into her arms and stroked him. Gradually, she calmed down and the three of them then sat down and described an upsetting incident that had occurred earlier that day.

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Patients' and Parents' Testimonials

[Patient Testimonial]
Before becoming a patient of Dr. Atkins, I never had received any treatment from a therapist or psychiatrist. Naturally, I was nervous the first few meetings. I was surprised at seeing her dog, Murphy, in the room along with us. However, simply the appearance of the adorable puppy helped me relax. She told me his presence in the room, among other benefits, might give some comedic relief. For me, not only did he provide that, but having a third being in the room eased up the tension somehow and just made me more at ease.

I believe that only certain type of people, those with patience and big hearts, are capable of caring for dogs. Seeing that Dr. Atkins owned a dog, it gave me a very good first impression of her. I was able to relieve my stress and problems much more easily. I feel that having a therapy dog in the room helps both the therapist and the patient.


[Parent Testimonial]
My son Nathan began therapy with Dr. Atkins in the fall of 2008. We had just put our family pet to sleep that same fall, so it was a very hard time for him. He had been diagnosed with an eating disorder the previous year and we had moved to the Midwest and back to the DC area for my husband’s work. During the year that Nathan began therapy with Dr. Atkins, Murphy was integrated into their sessions. Nathan seemed to be much more comfortable with Murphy there and really looked forward to seeing what mischief that Murphy could get into during Nathan’s hour with Dr. Atkins. Since Nathan is more of an introvert, I think that having Murphy in the office made him more at ease to talk and share things about himself. Murphy is just the sweetest and gentlest dog and he’s happy to greet everyone and be their friend. I know that he helped along our decision to go ahead and make the big leap to adopt another furry friend for our family after being without one for a couple of years. I highly recommend Murphy as a therapy dog. Overall, I think that animal assisted therapy is a great way to get patients to feel more at ease and remove the foreboding feeling of going to the doctor.

Nathan’s mom

[Patient Testimonial]
When Dr. Atkins brought in her dog Murphy, I became instantly joyful and energized with just the presence of a dog in the room, as I am a dog lover. With Murphy in the room, it almost felt as if I could let out my feelings and thoughts about myself and my eating disorder more easily. Was it maybe the calm environment that Murphy created? With a dog in the room it made it feel like home to me and relieved any pressure I had when I came to talk with Dr. Atkins.


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[Patient Testimonial]

As an anorexic teen, life has been, as one might imagine, rather difficult. From when I obsessively started running endless laps around a track in my early years of unhealthy mania, to the various foods I would desperately smother from view during countless seemingly inedible meals, to my hospitalization due to malnutrition, it is clear that I suffer from the dreadful, mind revolutionizing disease of anorexia nervosa. The question, and perhaps greatest difficulty that arises today, threatening my family, friends, and me, is how to conquer my incomprehensible illness. I will not say that Murphy, a small, white, curly-haired Bichon, is the cure to my illness, but is rather the passageway to my alleviation.

You see, as I endure the many hardships of anorexia nervosa, the arguments, betrayals, and shattered relationships, I find that the constant and effective source of relief to my troubles is comfort. Yes, comfort. Comfort to me is a sort of drug, enlightening my spirit and giving me hope that there is a better future somewhere out there. All I have to do for its obtainment is to keep digging, farther and farther, slowly regaining normality along the way. Murphy, in this case scenario, would be my shovel, a tool helping unearth a route to treatment that lies ahead, somewhere beneath the many obstacles of stones and rocks.

I remember once recounting a story that was quite depressing during a therapy session. The grief inside me, however was somehow stuck, leaving me choking on my tears and sourness. As Murphy sensed my uneasiness, he shuffled into my lap and started caressing and licking my face and neck. It was then that my tears spilled out, relieving my pain. I realized at that very moment that Murphy had more potential than I ever would have expected from such a small creature. It was a life changing experience that made me realize how much of an aide Murphy could be in a psychologist’s office.

As I hope that I have shown, Murphy makes an excellent therapy dog, not only for me, but for many others. I know how well he must certainly assist others in their horrible, life changing experiences as he has done for me. May a grand future await Murphy the dog!


[Parent Testimonial]

The most therapeutic thing about Murphy is his unconditional love.  When my son enters Dr. Atkins’ office, Murphy rises to meet him, his whole little self, wiggling and wagging.  Murphy clearly brings no judgments with his warm greetings, and this kind of whole hearted acceptance seems to melt whatever awkwardness or shame my son may have brought with him into the session.  He is free to relax his hands into the soft fur of this supportive friend.  With a therapy dog like Murphy, my son feels loved and lovable, an importance piece of any healing process.

Jason's mom

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Clinician Testimonials

I am writing in regard to “Murphy,” a Bichon Frise therapy dog assisted by my colleague, Dr. Darlene Atkins. As a clinical psychologist and Director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at CNMC, Dr. Atkins has Murphy accompany her in seeing patients in a neighboring office at the Spring Valley satellite clinic. I have observed Murphy’s temperament and behavior in the office setting and his interaction with staff (including me), patients, and families.

Murphy is an adorable, cuddly, well-mannered, hypoallergenic, fluffy white Bichon Frise who does not shed. His personality and temperament are outstanding. He is calm, affectionate and social, exuding warmth and love to adults and children alike. In my opinion, he has the perfect disposition to work in a pediatric health care setting. He is well trained and certified; but most importantly he is a “natural” at providing a comforting presence. Although he is alert and engaging, he is never loud or disturbing in any way and retreats to his bed under Dr. Atkins’ desk when directed.

He facilitates a relaxing, soothing atmosphere often in a stressful situation, thus a fabulous asset to Dr.Atkins’ therapy sessions. After a busy day working with my own patients, I often visit Murphy (when Dr. Atkins is not seeing a patient) to lower my blood pressure and have some fun!

In summary, I am fully supportive of Murphy and his work with Dr. Atkins at the Spring Valley clinic. I only wish that I could have Murphy accompanying me as I see my patients with diabetes as I have absolutely no doubt that he has a healing presence!.

Fran R. Cogen, MD,CDE
Director, Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Clinic

[Dr. Atkins – Clinical Vignettes]

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