Dolphin Therapy

The porpoise (couldn’t resist) of dolphin therapy is to provide sensory stimulation to people with disabilities. Therapists and their clients enter a pool to interact with captive, or semi-captive dolphins. Clients are directed to feed, touch, swim with, or pet their ever-smiling co-therapists. These therapeutic activities increase motor, speech, and social skills, and help people address behavior or emotional issues.

Dolphin therapy, or dolphin assisted therapy, was originated in the early 1970s by Dr. Betsy Smith. She noticed the positive effects being with dolphins had on her disabled brother. The concept was further developed at the Dolphin Human Therapy center in Florida by Dr. Nathanson. He did research on the benefits children with Down’s syndrome receive from interacting with dolphins.

Conditions Dolphin Therapy May Improve

  • autism
  • Down’s syndrome
  • neurological disorders
  • developmental delay
  • ADHD
  • muscular paralysis
  • depression
  • chronic pain

The human healing process is enhanced by dolphin therapy. People who have contact with dolphins have a beneficial change in their endorphin, enzyme, hormone, and T-cell levels. Why this happens is not known. Some scientists theorize it is caused by the pleasant, playful environment where children or adults are happy, highly engaged, and more willing to perform requested tasks. There is some speculation that dolphins can sense a client’s disability and motivate them to exercise that specific area of their body.

Others believe the ultrasound waves emitted by dolphins are the reason for client improvements. These sound, or echolocation waves, are strong enough to penetrate and change the molecular structure of liquids and soft tissue. EEG tests have shown that spending time with dolphins produces a change in a client’s brain frequency; beta waves are “reduced” to calmer alpha waves.

It has also been noticed that interacting with dolphins tends to synchronize the two hemispheres of our brain. That means each half can communicate better with the other which increases a person’s ability to learn.

Benefits of Dolphin Therapy

  • noticeable changes in emotion
  • calming down, better attention span
  • better communication
  • increased coordination and motor skills
  • higher self-esteem and confidence
  • increased social connection such as smiling, touching
  • more effective immune system

Dolphin therapy has its share of naysayers. The studies to verify the benefits were small; no large controlled studies have been done. Some doctors believe the dolphin’s ultrasound waves could not possibly be sustained long enough at targeted areas to be of help. Reports that depression is alleviated are anecdotal, and there are no studies indicating the relief is more than temporary. Dolphin therapy is an expensive therapy and not one likely to be covered by insurance.

Related Articles


Are you currently seeing a therapist?: