by Jamie Calvert, Staff Writer

UWF’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) hosted Paws, Paint and Meditate last Wednesday. The workshop included arts and crafts, meditation and the widely loved Pet Partners therapy dogs. The event overall focused on promoting relaxation using a variety of approaches.

Mary Jo Hardin, a coordinator for the event, is a licensed mental health counselor with CAPS and feels that outreach events are key when it comes to spreading the word about the department’s services.

“I do a lot of expressive arts in the therapy that I conduct with [CAPS],” Hardin said. “We’ve been doing Paws and Play at the library for the last two or three years. We wanted to do something more low-key; we did a meditation, we had several stations for different projects for people to do as they stop in. The combination of the therapy dogs, art and music is known to reduce blood pressure, bring down heart rate, reduce respirations… you put them all together, and you’ve got a winner.”

The Pet Partners therapy dogs have visited campus a multitude of times and have always been met with open arms. Students can often expect the dogs to be at UWF during midterm exams, finals week or any time during the semester that the program coordinators feel that students would benefit from seeing them.

Brenda Rudolph is a Pet Partners therapy dog handler and was at the event with Jakey, a golden retriever and certified therapy dog.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Rudolph said. “Pet Partners is an international group, and it’s not just dogs. There are llamas, cats, miniature horses and any number of animals. With UWF, Mary Jo calls us and it’s one of our favorite things that we do. We love going to see everyone at the library. We feel like the Red Sea is parting because there are so many students to see us!”

There have been scientific studies and research has been conducted that proves a positive correlation between health in humans and a bond with an animal. According to the Pet Partner program research, these correlations include improvements in pain for fibromyalgia patients, increased positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and improved motivation to participate in treatment protocol in pediatric cancer patients.

Adetoyosi Obikoya, or “Toy”, is the outreach graduate assistant with CAPS. She completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Tuskegee University and is a first-year graduate student in the counseling psychology concentration of the master’s program here at UWF. As a graduate assistant, her goal is finding fun and informative strategies to assist the student body in taking care of their mental health needs.

“One of the things that’s really cool about CAPS is we offer free confidential services to students,” Obikoya said. “It’s great for those students that are local, and the ones that are away from home. All of our staff is well-trained, empathetic and very good at what they do. The students have access to quality care.”

The next Paws and Play event will be held on April 17 at John C. Pace Library, just in time for finals week.

CAPS provides initial assessment appointments, crisis services, individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, career counseling and biofeedback. They also provide consultation to faculty, staff, students and family members of students.

UWF students are also eligible for up to 12 individual therapy sessions per academic year. Additionally, students are eligible for up to 12 couples therapy sessions and 12 biofeedback sessions while they are enrolled.