Exploring Dolphins and Disability
By Claudia Stahl
ADVANCE Assistant Editor
A touch from Flipper might have therapeutic benefits, according the preliminary findings of a pilot study of dolphin-assisted therapy under way in Florida. The studies are being conducted at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key.
John E. Upledger, DO, and therapists from the Upledger Foundation in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, are looking into the health benefits, if any, that dolphins can bring to patients. Their research is not a controlled, scientific study, but an exploration.
The researchers provide craniosacral therapy to patients in a warm, salt-water lagoon that can be freely accessed by dolphins at the center. The dolphins come and go at will.
At least one of the center's 20 dolphins has joined the therapists--among them Susan Steiner, OTR/L--in some capacity during every session since the study began in September. The Upledger Institute declined to allow Steiner to comment on her work due to the preliminary nature of the research.
Sometimes they just circle the patients or therapists. On occasion they scan and touch the patients with their rostrums. "Thus far, what they have done has been incredible," Dr. Upledger said.
According to Dr. Upledger, the dolphins seem naturally attracted to the areas where patients have disability or trauma. For instance, two dolphins consecutively put their rostrums on the bottom of the left foot of a boy with CP who had an osteogenesis problem. "You could feel their energy being pumped in. His body began relaxing and expanding."
Dr. Upledger said the dolphins have clued therapists in to trouble spots of which they weren't even aware. "The dolphins seem to know where the primary causes (of the patient's problems) are and contribute their energy when they touch the patient or therapist. This appears to expedite the (healing) process."
The researchers use a variety of therapies in the experiments, including craniosacral, MFR, position-and-hold, and energy work. Dr. Upledger has observed improved comfort, relaxation, pain relief and motor control in his patients since the first session.
Dr. Upledger said the study will continue as long as the participants--human and animal--continue to show enthusiasm. "It has already exceeded my hopes and expectations. The dolphins (participate) more than I thought they would, and everybody wants to come back again."