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Dolphin Assisted Therapy Essay, Research Paper

Dolphin assisted therapy (DAT) is a highly controversial topic in the medical world. Is it medicine or simply recreation? Whatever you might believe, you cannot deny the fact that dolphins are loving and nurturing mammals with the ability to show compassion. Along with that ability for compassion, some may claim that there is actual science, which proves that interactions with dolphins have helped to treat many patients. Most of the patients in dolphin assisted therapy are children with autism, Down’s syndrome, depression, and other neurological and movement disorders. (http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/9803/28/dolphin.therapy/index.html)

The theory behind dolphin assisted therapy is based on two philosophies. One of these is that the unconditional love and support a dolphin has to offer can benefit children and mentally ill patients in many ways. As with most animals, a dolphin seems to have human-like emotions, so a deep trusting bond can develop between patient and mammal. Some proponents of dolphin assisted therapy claim that the compassion a dolphin displays increases the patient?s self-confidence, because the patient is never judged. Increased self-confidence can lead to better social skills and academic improvement. (http://www.ulst.ac.uk/papa/dolphin.html)

The second part of the theory involves a more scientific approach. It involves echolocation (echolocation: a high-pitched sound sent out by the dolphin that bounces off an object and returns to the whale. The dolphin interprets the returning echo to determine the object?s shape, direction, distance, and texture). (http://www.zoomdinasaurs.com/subjects/whales/glossary/Echolocation.shtml ) Some say that the dolphins? use of sonar and echolocation produce changes in the body tissue and cell structure of patients who associate with them. Others believe that sound waves emitted by the dolphins in communication and echolocation stimulate healing. (http://www.idw.org/healing.html) A diminishing of anxiety and depression, enhanced learning in handicapped children, and pain relief are all attributed, by some researchers, to dolphin echolocation (http://www.interspecies.org/dolphin.human/research ). Echolocation is also thought to help increase attention span, develop motor skills, and develop better co-ordination in children (http://www.ulst.ac.uk/papa/dolphin.html).

Although dolphin assisted therapy has many supporters, it also has a large number of critics. They say dolphin assisted therapy is an advertised miracle along with a hefty fee. Dr. Bernard Rimland, director of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego says, ?There is no scientific evidence at all that using dolphins is helpful?. It?s a recreational thing.? Michael Westerveld, a pediatirc neuropsychologist at Yale University?s School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, said ?If there is any success, I?d be more likely inclined to attribute it to the general effects of?. the opportunity to interact with animals. You could buy them a puppy and see the same results.? Also there has been very little research done about dolphin assisted therapy, which also makes medical doctors suspicious. (http://elfi.com/csi98207.html )

The other problem with dolphin assisted therapy, some claim, is that it is a form of cruelty to animals. They say that keeping a dolphin in captivity merely because we believe there is some miracle cure for handicaps, when there is no actual proof, is inappropriate. (http://elfi.com/csi98207.html )

Several case studies illustrate the arguments in favor of dolphin assisted therapy. In one case, a fifteen year old girl named Tracy, regularly confined in a psychiatric ward for severely disturbed adolescents, was found lying on the beach at Eilat, Israel. Her feet were bloody and cut from the sharp coral reefs. She claimed that she was there because she had received telepathic messages from her alien cousins, the dolphins. She was offered regular access to with dolphins, progressing from helping with their feeding to eventual free swims with the dolphin pod. She seemed immediately to grasp the intent of this approach, and agreed. She soon established a very close relationship with one of the dolphins, Dickey, who was also an adolescent, and was especially responsive to her commands. They developed a strong bond of friendship. Though her behavior had always been considered bizarre, she managed to make positive contributions to life at the reef. When she was allowed daily swims with the dolphins, she and Dickey played and swam like intimate friends. Finally Tracy had found a place to belong in the reef community at Eliat.

Another interesting case involved an autistic eight-year old girl, who was brought to the reef from a camp for children brought there to work with the dolphins. Unlike the others, she was too afraid to swim in the open waters of the reef. Her treatments were carried out in the more restricted area of a platform float in the dolphin pool. She was allowed to feed the dolphins by tossing pieces of herring into the dolphin?s mouth. She was helpful and calm as long as no water was splashed; she became hysterical when splashed. Though less her treatment was less successful then others, she learned to trust the dolphins and eventually was able to swim with them.

Supporters of dolphin assisted therapy find powerful support for their position in these case studies. Deeply troubled children seem to develop greater self-confidence and improved social skills. The critics of dolphin assisted therapy point out that there is no scientific proof of the effectiveness of this form of therapy. Additionally, keeping wild creatures in captivity for an unproven purpose denies them a significant part of their natural existence in the open seas, with their own kind. (http://www.positivehealth.com/permit/Articles/Animals/wolgro38.htm)

BIBLIOGRAPHYDolphin therapy: recreation or medicine?. March 28, 2000. November 27, 2000. http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/9803/28/dolphin.therapy/index.htmlDavid & Diane Heyburn. Dolphin Assisted Therapy. November 27, 2000. http://www.ulst.ac.uk/papa/dolphin.htmlEcholocation. 1996-200. November 27, 2000 http://www.zoomdinasaurs.com/subjects/whales/glossary/Echolocation.shtmlInternational Dolphin Watch: Introduction. 1999. November 27, 2000. http://www.idw.org/healing.htmlResearch. November 27, 2000. http://www.interspecies.org/dolphin.human/researchInternational Dolphin Watch: Introduction. 1999. November 27, 2000. http://www.positivehealth.com/permit/Articles/Animals/wolgro38.htmWilliam Rossiter. What About Dolphin Assisted Therapy?. April 1998. November 27, 2000. http://elfi.com/csi98207.html


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