October 02, 2016

Pet Therapy Can Help First-Year University Students Fight Homesickness

A new study has found that animal-assisted therapy can help fight homesickness in first-year university students.
By Kristi Rosa
The researchers conducted a study comprised of a total of 44 first-year university students who were recruited by flyers posted around the university. These students identified themselves as homesick and filled out a survey that sought to measure the intensity, or levels, of their homesickness using questions related to “satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus,” according to the press release. The students were split into two equal groups, with one half being a part of a treatment group that received eight weeks of animal-assisted therapy, and the other half in the “wait-list” group that were informed that their treatment would start in eight weeks’ time. The therapy was scheduled for Friday afternoons, a time where the researchers felt that homesick students would feel the most vulnerable due to the impending weekend. At these 45-minute sessions, the students socially interacted with small groups consisting of three or four people with random dogs and handlers.

After the eight-week session, students from both the treatment group and the wait-list group filled out the survey again. The study found that those who were a part of the treatment group, “experienced significant reductions in homesickness and a greater increase in satisfaction with life,” according to the press release. These students “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.” Conversely, the wait-list group experienced an increased in their feelings of homesickness.

According to Dr. Binfet said, “Many first-year students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community. Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.”

When speaking of how the animal-assisted therapy affected her, UBC Okanagan student, Varenka Kim said, “Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed. I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life.”

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