An article in a recent edition of The New York Times would like readers to believe that animal-based therapy using cows is something new. Mountain Valley residents, however, would be quick to tell you that they have been exposed to these amazing creatures for years. Cow cuddling, as the practice is called, invites interaction with the farm animals via brushing, petting or heartfelt chats. Our current favorite cow, Zeke, isn’t actually a cow, he’s a steer, and he possesses the same traits that make for an excellent therapist – he’s calm, accommodating of a range of personalities, and has the patience to listen to endless problems without so much as a judgmental moo.

MVTC’s Clinical Director, Tim DiGiacomo, a long-time advocate of cow cuddling, shares his light-hearted thoughts on animal-based therapy here in Plainfield.

How’s Your Moooood? *

*Disclaimer: This blog post comes to you complete with incredibly well-thought-out animal puns and jokes.

I’ve felt a bit sheepish (I warned you) about writing this blog but I wanted to get the message out.  Mountain Valley is not your typical residential treatment center for anxiety and OCD.  Sure, we use empirically supported treatments for anxiety and OCD including CBT, ERP, DBT, and ACT.  We also provide therapeutic activities fostering exposure to, appreciation of, and interaction with the outdoors and of course…our fantastic animals.  Our residents say that it is these therapeutic activities and the animals specifically that help to rejuvenate and provide moments of joy, humor, and connection, especially during challenging times.  For many residents, it is the animals that help them get unstuck, re-energized, and back to working so hard towards their goals.

MV is a place where chickens, sheep, horses and a steer roam…no buffalo yet.  It’s a place where you can feel herd, understood, and supported while engaging in the challenging work to address your anxiety and OCD and to learn to reduce symptoms, live your life in the present moment and to move towards your values and goals.  For many at MV, the animals on campus help to reduce stress, provide a reason to get outside, and provide a sense of commitment, responsibility, and a desire to care for the animals.  There’s not a day that goes by that residents aren’t talking to or cuddling with the sheep and hens.  It can really make someone’s day when Gandalf, and the other ladies run up to them in between activities or on their way to a therapy session.  And then there’s Zeke…a behemoth of affection.  I’m not sure if he realizes that he’s a steer or knows his size, especially when he trots over to you for a pet.  In a recent survey, Zeke was voted the most favorite MV animal and beat out the udders by a whole 2 percent! (Wow, that was a stretch!)   And, thanks to the excellent equine work being done at Willow Brook Farm, Froggy, Leo, Cesar, and Shenanigans are always ready for a pat down or a trot too.  Nothing like a 2000-pound horse to provide a few lessons on anxiety as well as confidence for you.

In all seriousness though, the presence of and work with the animals at MV has a very significant effect on the well-being of those who live here.  For those struggling with contamination-related challenges, they can offer an opportunity for exposure.  For those wanting to learn to be more present and mindful, the animals offer a source of comfort and a refocusing of attention.  For those trying to use the animals to avoid feelings or exposures…the animals tell them to get back to work, don’t avoid but rather engage, and that they’ll be around to hang out later.

So, while the backbone of MV is evidence-based practice, I’d have to say that the heart is the animals, the residents, and those who work here.  Please feel free to reach out to us to learn more about Mountain Valley, or check out The New York Times Magazine article featuring the work of the residents at Mountain Valley.

Written with assistance from MV’s Canine Crew – Luna, Betty, and Hopa