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Meet the charity transforming mental health and wellbeing through the human-animal bond

Discover how a Manchester Charity is harnessing the power of the human-animal bond to provide unique mental health support, offering hope and healing to individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

In a world where the challenges of mental health have become increasingly prevalent, a remarkable organisation is making waves by blending the therapeutic power of animals with mental health support.

Founded in 2015 by Sharon Hall, a former NHS mental health nurse, is rewriting the script of how we approach mental well-being.

Noah’s A.R.T., a unique community hub, harnesses the profound benefits of the human-animal bond to provide a safe and inclusive space for individuals to reconnect with life and find solace in the presence of animals and nature.

Noah’s A.R.T.: A Holistic Approach to Wellbeing

Noah’s A.R.T. is not your typical mental health service. It is a place of hope and healing, offering a holistic and inclusive approach that caters to people of all ages, abilities, and aspirations.

We had the privilege of speaking with Connie, who works at Noah’s A.R.T, sharing the organisation’s inspiring journey and the remarkable impact they have had on countless lives.

Connie shared the organisation’s core mission: “Our main purpose is tentative therapy service for people who may be struggling with cognitive behavioural therapy or talking therapies.

“We’ve introduced animals into the mix, targeting a wide age range from young kids to elderly people of all abilities.

“They don’t need a diagnosis to get our services.

“We’ve seen a benefit in introducing animals into a therapy setting where people don’t actually have to interact with the therapist. They can just sit with an animal for ages, and it boosts morale and mental health.”

This approach to therapy is as unique as it is effective, offering an alternative path to healing.

While it may raise eyebrows for some, Connie attests to its profound impact: “I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love a dog.

“So, it kind of brings this sense of care towards the client, that they’re caring for this animal, that they’re offering the animal great care. But it also creates the relationship between the therapist and the client.”

Animals and Mental Health

Services Tailored to Individual Needs At the heart of Noah’s A.R.T. are a range of therapeutic services that are client-led and made to meet each individual’s unique needs, abilities, preferences, and goals.

The organisation recognises that mental well-being is not a linear journey; thus, its services are designed to be available and adaptable, whether individuals are making progress, facing setbacks, or simply seeking to stay on track.

These sessions incorporate elements of behavioural activation, utilising the motivating nature of animals to engage clients in therapeutic and creative activities.

The presence of animals plays a crucial role in fostering a positive therapist-client relationship, promoting social interaction, and reducing anxiety and stress.

Services may include improving self-esteem, tackling phobias, or simply providing a space for pure relaxation.

Animals for Therapy

At Noah’s A.R.T, therapy sessions extend beyond traditional settings.

Clients have the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of animals, including dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, and rodents.

These animals become more than just therapy tools; they become companions on the journey to better mental health.

Connie highlighted the variety of services offered by Noah’s A.R.T: “We offer one-to-one therapy sessions, where a lead therapist and the client can interact with various animals like dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, and rodents.

“These sessions usually take place at our base in Hyde.

“We also offer outreach services, where our lead therapist and a group of volunteers visit care homes, schools, hospitals, and other locations to deliver our services to those who can’t come to us.

“Additionally, we offer animal welfare courses where people can learn how to care for animals properly, gain work experience, and even volunteer with us afterwards.”

Dog Cafe Fridays

One standout feature of Noah’s A.R.T is the “dog cafe” held every Friday.

Connie explained, “It’s a social interaction setting where people can interact with dogs, make friends, and simply enjoy some quality time.”

This unique initiative not only contributes to mental health but also fosters a sense of community and joy.

But do animals genuinely hold the power to transform lives?

Connie firmly believes so.

“Sometimes we have clients who might not start to talk even before, like, a couple of therapy sessions.

“But there’s always one thing in common with the therapist and the client, and that’s that they like animals, and that’s why they’re here.”

A Personal Journey

Connie also shared a touching outreach story: “During an outreach visit to Manchester City, a corporate event, we had a woman who was always stressed due to her role in finance.

“She had never seen her relax until she sat with one of our guinea pigs. That moment was a significant breakthrough.”

The power of these unique interactions extends to clients of all backgrounds and ages.

Connie revealed, “A lot of the people we work with have experience with mental health issues or disabilities, which may not have responded well to traditional therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

“However, our services are open to everyone, and we also have clients who have never struggled with mental health.”

Personal stories of transformation and healing serve as powerful testimonials.

Connie herself shared a heartfelt journey: “During 2021, when lockdown was challenging for many, I was personally struggling with my mental health and wouldn’t leave the house.

“My stepmom found an apprenticeship opportunity and I got chosen for it. After a year as an apprentice, I got a job here, and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. I wake up looking forward to going to work and seeing my favourite animals.”

Remarkable Results

Clients have also experienced remarkable changes in their lives through their interaction with animals. For example, one client who was initially nonverbal started talking after a few sessions, thanks to their interaction with one of the therapy dogs, Alfie.

Noah’s Ark’s unique approach to therapy has raised some questions among sceptics.

When asked about those who may question how animals can improve mental health, Connie replied, “It’s a bit of a tough one. Mental health services in the NHS often lack quality, which is one reason why Sharon, our founder, established the charity.

“Animals, particularly dogs, bring a sense of carefreeness and can make people feel like they have no other cares in the world except for the happiness of the animal.”

As for the future, Connie revealed, “In 2024, we have one of our PAWS courses opening, either at level 2 or level 3, which covers the basics of animal welfare and care. It’s also our 10-year anniversary in two years, so we plan to continue our work and make people’s lives a bit easier.”

The charity is based in Hyde, Greater Manchester, but its services extend across the region.

The organisation’s origin story is rooted in Sharon Hall’s dedication to addressing the gaps in mental health services within the NHS.

Sharon, a former mental health nurse, combined her love for animals with her passion for mental health care, ultimately giving birth to Noah’s A.R.T.

Their unique approach has touched the lives of many, offering a ray of hope to those seeking solace and healing in the company of some of the most loving and compassionate creatures on Earth.

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