pets and chat group helps people with complex mental health issues connect

Posted on 7th March 2022

cohealth’s Pets and Chat group is a social support program that provides a safe space for conversation and connection for people experiencing complex mental ill-health issues.  

The group currently meet online, and people bring their pets to the weekly session, or borrow someone else’s pet to bring. 

Catherine Milan, Peer support recovery coach with the Psychosocial Support Program, facilitates the Pets and Chat group, and uses her own experience of recovery from mental ill-health to help others on their journey. 

“Once they started talking about their pets, they talk about themselves more easily. That was my experience with my own Puglia,” said Catherine. 

“My journey in the community during my recovery engaging with people through my pet,” she said. 

“My puglia, although not formally a support animal, is very much my support animal. I can bring that learning to that group.” 

The group currently has around four participants, plus Catherine, who meet weekly, but are looking to grow that number. 

“As a group we gain insight, reflections and learning through doing. When it’s appropriate, I share with the group what things helped me recover and move out of crisis.”

Catherine has been working for cohealth since the end of 2017 

“My experience has been universal enough that I can relate to other people’s journeys. I can take an aspect of my experience and I can relate it to something someone is experiencing to help them navigate. To problem solve, to reflect, to gain insight and understanding. If the person wants to set a goal, we can do that together,” she says. 

“It’s a vocation, not a job. To walk beside somebody on their journey. It didn’t exist when I was in trouble. Support groups didn’t’ exist. I was on my own,” said Catherine. 

cohealth client, Carl, has been attending the Pets and Chat group since September 2021. 

As well as the Pets and Chat group, Carl has previously been involved in other group work including the art group and the coffee and chat group, and finds them valuable. 

Carl lives at home with his mum, but has limited support networks, and is socially isolated. He doesn’t like talking about his health issues, but finds the Pets and Chat group helpful for social engagement.  

Carl has a 9 month-old kitten named Mira Jane who he brings to the Pets and Chat sessions (when she’s co-operating!). 

“I like seeing all the different types of animals that people have. There is one person in the group that has a snake and a bird!” said Carl. 

“The group is a pretty good spot for connecting with other people, and there’s no pressure. We talk about anything and everything. Me and one of the other members were chatting about video games the other day.” 

“It’s a space where you’re not pressured to talk about your health, but you can if you want.”

 “It’s just me and mum at home and I’m often in bed. I feel quite isolated most of the time. Tuesdays are a day I look forward to for Pets and Chat,” said Carl. 

Carl has recently been assessed as eligible for the NDIS and cohealth will be working with him as he transitions. 

Pets and Chat group is held every Tuesday, and welcomes new participants. 

Contact Catherine Milan for more details:  

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