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What Is Dolphin Therapy?

H. Bliss
H. Bliss

Dolphin therapy is a healing practice that can also be known as dolphin-assisted therapy. It usually involves swimming and interacting with one or more dolphins as a means of spurring healing of a variety of problems. Usually, the therapy is recommended by a doctor, often a psychologist or physical therapist, alongside traditional medical treatment for the problem. Proponents of this practice cite instances showing increased learning function and recovery progress for people with mental disorders. Some people disagree with the use of his method for its unproven effectiveness and for ethical and safety problems.

Dolphin therapy is a form of aquatic therapy. Generally considered to be a form of alternative therapy, it is most often discussed in connection with autism or other cognitive developmental disorders. During this type of therapy, the patient swims in a pool with dolphins with the assistance of his dolphin therapist. This therapy is performed alongside other types of healing therapy, like massage and psychotherapy. It is most often administered to children with mental or physical ailments, but it is also used as therapy for adults, particularly those with injuries, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.

Despite the apparent cuteness of the practice, dolphin therapy is somewhat controversial among animal rights activists, safety advocates and therapists. Animal rights activists believe it places the dolphin at an unnecessary risk of injury or infection. Even with precautions, dolphins' delicate skin can be injured by fingernails or by jewelry worn by the patient, or if a patient's behavior gets out of control.

Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another animal rights problem is concern for how the dolphins end up at the therapy facilities. In some cases, dolphins are captured from the wild for use in dolphin experience attractions, and many are hurt or killed in the process. Since captive dolphins can become unstable and lash out, injuries to the person receiving dolphin therapy can also be a concern. In the past, some people swimming with dolphins have sustained injuries ranging from mild lacerations to broken ribs.

Some therapists believe dolphin healing is a waste of money. Though a select few therapists perform the therapy for free, a session with dolphins can be expensive. Though many therapists believe dolphin therapy is beneficial to patients, others disagree. Research on the effectiveness of dolphin therapy has shown benefits for children with disabilities, but dissenting researchers argue that the existing studies are out of date, inconclusive, or flawed.

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Discussion Comments


It's not surprising that dolphin therapy benefits people with depression or post-stress disorders. Water for one, is therapeutic. And being around animals and nature is therapeutic and beneficial too. There are studies that support both of these claims separately. Dolphin therapy combines both and I think it may help someone overcome stress and develop the will to live and enjoy life once again. Of course, the cost of this therapy is a whole another issue. The cost prevents most people who need help from receiving this therapy. Now that, we need to be discussing further.


I've never received dolphin therapy but my autistic cousin has and he benefited greatly from it. From what I've seen of dolphin therapy on TV, it doesn't look like the dolphins are being harmed in any way. They actually look very happy. They are taken care of well and they seem to like interacting with people very much. I agree that they are emotional creatures and they form bonds with their caretakers and their human patients they're helping.

Even if there is a small amount of proof that dolphin therapy is helping people, and if the dolphins are not harmed, then why should we not support this type of treatment? The way I see it, God may have created these creatures knowing that they could be helpful to us. I don't think dolphins are unhappy to be around humans, I think they enjoy it too. I personally would want more autistic children to benefit from this interaction with dolphins.


I completely agree that ill-treatment of dolphins is wrong and unacceptable. It's really an ethical matter. The question is, can we harm one creature to help another? And the answer is no. We cannot justify harming dolphins, even if we believe that the end result is beneficial to a human. A dolphin's life or psychology isn't less important than a human being's, especially when there are other treatments available to people that are just as or even more effective.


@croydon - I just don't think it's right to keep them in the kinds of conditions that they are usually kept in captivity. I've interacted with wild dolphins and it's been an incredible experience, and one that I would wish for everyone, but keeping them locked up just isn't right. Either they are intelligent and emotional creatures and would therefore not respond well to captivity or they are just animals and aren't going to be any more use in therapy than other kinds of animals.

The very fact that one of the risk factors for this therapy is that the dolphins might be mentally ill from captivity and might lash out should be enough of a warning that keeping them in this kind of condition is wrong.


@umbra21 - Dolphins do have attributes that other animals don't have though. I've heard more than one story about people being in the water with dolphins and having a tumor pointed out by the animals, who could sense it with their echolocation.

If they are that attuned to health and that intelligent, it goes that they might have sophisticated ways of responding to other health or emotional problems as well.


I think this type of therapy can have benefits, but only to the extent that any kind of interaction with animals can be beneficial for some patients.

It's been well documented that interaction with animals is beneficial, with, for example, people who own pets having lower incidence of stress and so forth.

And dolphins have such a large and vibrant place in the public imagination, and are so charismatic and intelligent that it's hardly surprising that interaction with them is particularly potent.

But I don't think that they are doing anything mystical or even medical to the patient, or anything that a dog or horse couldn't do. And considering that dogs and horses aren't going to be as potentially negatively affected as dolphins might be by this kind of therapy, I have to wonder if it's worth it.

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    • Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
      By: IrinaNo
      Dolphin therapy typically includes swimming with the mammals.
    • Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
      By: guentermanaus
      Dolphin therapy may be used to treat those with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.