Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: Something Magical in the Water

Matteo and Marco are therapists who work together. Mateo is uneducated and intuitive. Marco is fully credentialed and certified. Yet, Marco is lavish in his praise of Mateo’s techniques. “I consider him an equal co-therapist,” he says.

Mateo is a dolphin. Yes, a dolphin. Marco is Marco Kuerschner, head therapist at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research Center (CDTC). As I watch the two of them in the water working with a boy in a “waking coma,” Marco tells me that he often takes the lead from Mateo when the dolphin suggests a procedure.

Esther Kooijman, the head dolphin trainer, told me of the time that Mateo refused a signal to gently propel a boy by this feet through the water. Instead he used his rostrum (beak) to press along another part of the child’s body. When the therapist exited the water, he mentioned to the parents that Mateo had avoided the child’s foot. “Oh, of course,” the parent said. “I forgot to tell you that he recently had surgery on that foot.” No one had to tell Mateo.

Very often the therapists tell me of their experience of working with patients in their office. They devise their plans for the day, only to find that the dolphins already know what needs to be done when the therapist and patient come to the water. They do so without signals or instructions. Most often it is what the therapist was thinking of; sometimes, as Marco is quick to testify, Mateo has another plan, and it is a good one.

This aspect — the dolphins seeming ability to read the patient — is only one aspect of what they seem to bring to the exchanges.

It is said that gazing into the dolphin’s eyes is also a profound experience. One mother said that her child with autism looked at her for the first time after working with the dolphins. It has been said that some children begin to walk, communicate and interact differently after these experiences. On a psychological level, depression is sometimes lifted, and world views changed.

Read full article: Judith Simon Prager, Ph.D.

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