The impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on our combat veterans and their families is extensive. Symptoms of anxiety and the effects of sleep disturbance have a negative impact on daily functioning (Wright et al., 2011). The presence of a dog has demonstrated a reduction in anxiety symptoms, which may have a positive influence on improved sleep (Shearer, Hunt, Chowdhury, & Nicol, 2016). The Veterans Administration (VA) has been using canines to assist combat veterans in reintegrating into civilian life, and most currently, as a part of psychological therapy (Rubenstein, 2012). This research examined the impact on combat veterans with PTSD of receiving and training a service dog using Stake’s (2006) collective case study model. Interviews were conducted with fifteen combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD participating in a 14-week program for receiving and training their own service dog. The goal of the study was to explore the veterans’ experience of the training program, as well as determine any effect on their PTSD symptoms. Symptom severity decreases were reported, which had the residual effects of decreased anxiety symptoms, sleep disturbance, and nightmares.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans, Anxiety, Service Dogs, Sleep Disturbance, Nightmares, Flashbacks, Case Study

Author Bio(s)

Diane Scotland-Coogan, LCSW, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Masters in Social Work program at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree from Saint Leo University, her Master's in Social Work (MSW) from the University of South Florida, and her Doctorate in Psychology from Capella University. She is trained in both Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) for addressing trauma. Trauma has been the main focus of her professional practice. Dr. Scotland-Coogan is a certified clinical supervisor for the state of Florida, overseeing masters level clinicians seeking licensure. She has practiced as a mental health counselor with children who had experienced trauma and their families. During this time, she became committed to finding a way to address trauma in practice which addressed both the psychological and physiological trauma response. This lead to her dedication to research in the area of animal-assisted therapy and relaxation techniques to attenuate symptoms of anxiety.

Dr. Scotland-Coogan has presented on such topics as motivational interviewing, working with veterans with PTSD and their families, service dogs for PTSD, and working with children and families in treatment. She has conducted and published research on treatment for PTSD, as well as written a chapter in the Social Work Desk Reference on clinical practice work with military families. Dr. Scotland-Coogan began teaching for the Saint Leo Masters of Social Work program in 2010 where she has written and taught advanced clinical practice courses. She recently assisted in the creation of an animal-assisted therapy course, addressing the use of animals in social work, education, and criminal justice. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: diane.scotland-coogan@saintleo.edu.

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