Eithar the parrot is helping a young person overcome trauma

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Melissa Macleod

Eithar the green Indian ring neck parrot sits on his perch. Eithar is a therapy animal who is helping a young person overcome th

Melissa Macleod, MacKillop Family Services residential care worker, shares an unusual and heart-warming way to introduce therapeutic care into a residential home, in the form of a small parrot called Eithar.  

With the recent focus on increasing therapeutic practice in residential homes, staff at our residential house have had an incredible opportunity to implement some new practices amongst our young people.

We know that attachment theory relates to the bond formed between two individuals, where one finds the other to be a ‘safe-haven.’ It is an emotional connection, commonly formed between a parent and child during early stages of childhood. When attachment is developed positively, children have the ability to self-regulate, have positive self-concepts, and are trusting of people they form relationships with. Unfortunately a lot of young people in care have not developed these bonds growing up and as a result of trauma and mistreatment do not have proper attachments to those significant people in their life.

Why am I telling you this, you may ask? Well it is interesting to see how animal-assisted therapy may play an important role in the reconstruction of broken attachments. Studies have proven that young people between the ages of 11-12 have been shown to spend more time caring for pets than for younger siblings; 10-13 year olds may find pets to be more supportive than actual humans; and children aged 7-15 years have been found to readily attach to an unrecognised dog they encounter.

Here is a look at a case involving an Indian ring neck parrot called Eithar, who has proved to be the perfect companion to one of our young people.

Danielle* is a 15 year old animal enthusiast and vegan who is passionate about animal rights and ethical food production and consumption. Danielle and Eithar are the perfect example of how animal therapy can assist young people who have experienced trauma in the past and are learning how to develop trust again, through a relationship with a non-human friend.

Not only do furry and feathery friends make great companions, but they can assist with a variety of other emotional needs in young people. The companionship of an animal can assist with developing empathy and pro-social behaviours, emotional regulation and self-efficiency. Not only that, a pet or animal companion can allow for opportunities for love, along with acceptance and unconditional positive regard. Social skills can be built up through non-verbal communication such as maintaining eye contact, facial expressions, verbal skills (tone, volume etc.) and more.

The bond formed between person and animal has been clearly evident in recent events that have taken place at our house over the last month or so. It was just an average Tuesday night when the fire department alerts sounded and called for evacuation among the houses in our area. This of course meant the young people and staff would need to evacuate the property… but they had a condition. The animals had to come too.

Danielle would not leave without Eithar, a number of pet fish and her axolotl (Mexican walking fish). Refusing to even possibly contemplate what might happen if the animals were left in the house, Danielle placed the fish into containers, and Eithar into a small plastic cage and shipped them off into the car with staff before exiting the premises.

It’s fair to say that not every animal fits the category of lovable companion, and not everything that crawls is worthy of keeping inside one’s bedroom. But it has been an absolute delight to see how Eithar has brought out a caring, interactive and positive side of Danielle.

It has sparked many interesting conversations, has made the dinner table an exciting place to eat (having a bird watching while we devour our food) and has allowed for positive interactions and rapport-building with new individuals in Danielle’s life. So if all else fails, and humans just aren’t doing you any good, take into consideration what a furry or feathery little friend could do for you. You won’t be disappointed!

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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