Nature, Dolphins and Depression
October 19, 2010 by Dr. Mark Wiley
The Taoist have philosophy based on the concept of Yin & Yang. It is based on the observation of nature and living in harmony with it. The seasons come and go. Night becomes day and then night again. But we humans have all but separated ourselves from the nurturing of Mother Nature (yin) and the action of Father Time (yang). It is a philosophy of being at peace, of being at One with Nature.
Woody Allen summed it up humorously when he stated, “I’m two with nature.” Although Steely Dan’s album title “Two Against Nature” might be a closer description of how we have come not only to live out of tune with nature but also to fight against it.
We fight the day/night cycle by staying up late into the evening and even into the wee hours of the next morning; and this alters our own inborn circadian rhythms — our body’s time clock. We deprive ourselves of essential nutrients found in whole fresh foods, instead replacing them with a diet heavy in unnatural preservatives and hydrogenated oils and corn syrups. Is it any wonder our society is chronically ill? Sure we live longer, but what for?
One of the prevalent health issues of our day is depression. And in our way of dealing with everything, we step outside of nature to find an answer. And the answer we came up with is therapy and drugs. And still people suffer depression daily. So how about we turn to nature for some help?
Well, it seems that some people are more attuned to their surroundings and environmental helpers than most. And groups of them have been healing their depression… by swimming with the dolphins in Honduras.
The objective was “to evaluate the effectiveness of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins, controlling for the influence of the natural setting, in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.”
The results were so satisfying and promising that the study of the curative effects of depression after swimming with dolphins was reported in the June 26, 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal.
For the study, 30 patients diagnosed with mild or moderate depression were sent to Honduras for some water fun. Prior to the study, all 30 people were taken off their medications and discontinued psychotherapy. Then 15 people enjoyed water snorkeling and fun amongst themselves while the other 15 swam with dolphins. At the study’s conclusion, the group who engaged in water sports with dolphins found the severity of their depressive symptoms to be markedly more reduced than the group that snorkeled without animals.
According to BMJ: “The therapy was effective in alleviating symptoms of depression after two weeks of treatment. Animal facilitated therapy with dolphins is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, which is based on a holistic approach, through interaction with animals in nature.”
It looks like water swimming, at least the leisurely kind, did help in both groups. However, water exercise with dolphins showed better results. Researchers contribute the healing effects of animal-facilitated therapy to the emotions raised by the interaction with the dolphins. From this they suggest that interaction with animals in general can be as effective as or more effective than drugs and psychotherapy in treating mild to moderate depression. And we already know that blood pressure drops in those who pet or stroke their cat.
Perhaps it’s not the animals per se that is helping, but that during the time we are with them we allow ourselves to return to our center, to relax and to join with the rhythms of nature.
My son Alex and I recently interacted with dolphins in Florida, and not only did we bond, but I for one hadn’t felt so relaxed in years.
Antonioli, C. & Reveley, M.A. (June 27, 2005). “Randomised controlled trial of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins in the treatment of depression.” British Journal of Medicine, www.BJM.com
—Dr. Mark Wiley