Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor in Canterbury, Kent

I am very research-active to ensure I am abreast on all the latest issues and sources of support. Please see below for a list of my most recent publications.

Spruin, E., Islam, S., Wornast, T., & Dempster, T. (2023). Examining the effects of animal-assisted therapy against standard treatment in a university setting.

The wellbeing of university students has become a global issue in recent years, with the rise of students seeking help for their mental health, the demand for such services has increased exponentially, leading many Universities to struggle in meeting these growing demands. With research in the area manly focused on formal methods of student support, the current study explores the use of more informal sources of support. 100 university students who had attended a standard informal student support session (known as Chooseday Chill) or a wellbeing dog session, were asked to complete a questionnaire measuring their anxiety and overall wellbeing. Results indicated that when compared to the standard support, students who attended the wellbeing dog sessions reported significantly lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of wellbeing at the end of the sessions. The authors discuss the practical implications of these findings for treatment in Higher Education.

Spruin, E., Dempster, T., Islam, S., & Raybould I. (2020). The effects of a therapy dog vs mindfulness vs a student advisor on student anxiety and well-being. Journal of Further and Higher Education

The psychological well-being of university students is a growing concern, both in the UK and globally. In light of emerging research on the benefits of therapy dogs for student well-being, this study compared the use of therapy dogs to more conventional methods for improving students’ well-being. Ninety-four university students were randomly assigned to one of three 30-minute treatment sessions: dog therapy, mindfulness, or the control group (the university’s standard treatment – a session with a student well-being advisor). All participants completed an anxiety and mood scale, both immediately before and after their allocated session. The results found that whilst all three groups showed a significant decrease in anxiety after their treatment, only the dog therapy and mindfulness groups’ showed anxiety levels that were at or below normal levels. Both groups also reported post-treatment anxiety levels which were significantly lower than those of the controls. Both groups also showed a significant improvement in mood after treatment, whereas the control group did not. The findings of this study therefore suggest that the use of therapy dogs is as effective as mindfulness in reducing students’ anxiety and improving their well-being. The implications and limitations of these findings are discussed further below.

Islam, S., Spruin, E., & Fernandez, A. (2017). The benefits of therapy dogs on student wellbeing within a UK university. Psychology and Behavioral Science International Journal.

Whilst research has found that the use of therapy dogs in universities can provide a number of positive benefits, the vast majority of this research is based on qualitative outcomes in North American universities. The present study therefore aims to explore how therapy dogs can alleviate student anxiety, with particular focus on the role that physical interaction may play within this process. The study further aims to be the first to investigate the impact of therapy dogs in the setting of a British university. Twenty students delivering individual class presentations were recruited for the study. A therapy dog was made available to all participants before their presentation, and the level of interaction was noted by the researcher. Each participant was also asked to complete the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Short Form before and after they gave their presentation. Results indicated that those who interacted with the therapy dog reported significantly lower levels of state anxiety after the presentation compared to those that did not interact with the dog. These findings suggest that the use of therapy dogs can decrease levels of anxiety in university students and enhance their overall wellbeing. The implications of these findings, along with limitations of the study are discussed below.