It has sometimes been dismissed as a New Age cure, and animal rights people sometimes complain that it’s not good for the dolphins, but it turns out that swimming with dolphins really does fight depression better than drugs and lasts longer, according to doctors.

Researchers allowed a group of patients to swim and snorkel with dolphins in a two-week experiment. Three months later, they were still experiencing lasting benefits and did not need medical treatment.

Dr. Michael Reveley thinks that dolphin therapy is thought to stimulate the nervous system through emotional engagement with animals and the natural environment. He says, “It has the potential to bring alternative clinical strategies to the treatment of emotional disorders.

“Psychiatric rehabilitation occurs through the interaction with animals in nature and the stimulation of the nervous system through the senses. We have gotten away from nature and lost the positive interaction we used to have with animals. Dolphins are intelligent, attractive animals and patients responded to their attentive natures.”

Dolphin therapy has been used for 20 years, but health professionals are baffled about how and why it works. Human Dolphin Therapy Centers have been established in places such as Florida, where people with autism, Down’s syndrome and neurological and movement disorders pay to swim with dolphins.

One theory is that dolphins use their sonar ability to identify neurological disorders in people, then help them relax and open up to healing and treatment. Others say the benefits are psychological, as dolphins distract patients from their suffering.

Little formal research was done before Reveley and his colleagues did their study. It involved 30 mild or moderately depressed patients recruited from the US and Honduras; the experiment took place in Honduras. Half of the patients were assigned to swim with dolphins. The rest were given more conventional water therapy. For 2 weeks, patients swam and snorkeled with dolphins for an hour a day. They stopped taking drugs or consulting a psychotherapist four weeks before the study, and did not take drugs during the dolphin therapy. Three months after the study, nine of the patients who swam with dolphins reported lasting improvements, along with three water therapy patients whose symptoms had been mostly alleviated.

It’s interesting to note that both dolphins and whales are mammals that spend all of their time in the water, although they breathe air. Evolutionists think they are animals that left the water millions of years ago, as the ancestors of all land animals did, then decided they preferred the ease of life in the water and returned. They didn’t redevelop gills; they continued to breathe oxygen out of the air. This instinctual point of view may be what is communicated to depressed patients and may be one of the things about dolphins they find so relaxing.

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