The theory of biophilia suggests that human health and wellbeing are dependent on our relationships with the natural environment. A number of studies have supported this theory, indicating that interaction with nature and animals can be therapeutic for sick and disabled people.

In a new study in the November 26, 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal , researchers found that people with mild to moderate depression who interacted with dolphins daily for two weeks showed significant improvements in depression scores, compared to those who underwent water therapy without dolphin interaction.

About the Study

Researchers from the University of Leicester Medical School in the U.K. recruited 30 study volunteers who had mild to moderate depression. The participants discontinued antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy at least four weeks before the study began. The study took place in Honduras.

The researchers randomly assigned the participants to either dolphin therapy or water therapy. In the dolphin therapy group, participants played, swam with, and took care of dolphins one hour a day for two weeks. In the water therapy group, participants took part in the same water activities as the dolphin therapy group, but in the absence of dolphins. Researchers measured the participants’ depression scores before the study and at the end of treatment.

Participants in the dolphin therapy group experienced significantly greater improvements in depression scores than those in the water therapy group. Specifically, 77% of the participants in the dolphin therapy group and 25% of those in the water therapy group experienced what the researchers defined as clinically significant improvements in depression.

This study was limited because the participants were not blind to their treatment; they were aware of which group they were in, which may have affected their outcome. Also, the long-term effects of dolphin therapy were not measured.

How Does This Affect You?

These findings suggest that people with mild to moderate depression may benefit from swimming with dolphins. The benefit seen in this study occurred after two weeks of therapy, which is substantially shorter than the four weeks it typically takes for psychotherapy or drug therapy to improve symptoms.

Although two weeks in Honduras for dolphin therapy may not be practical for most people, these findings still have important implications for people with mild or moderate depression. This study supports the theory of biophilia, which proposes that interacting with animals in a natural environment can improve health and wellbeing.

So, if you suffer from mild depression, consider adopting a pet and taking it with you on outings in nature. Unlike the other treatments for depression, there are no adverse effects (assuming you have no allergies to your chosen pet), and you’ll find there are numerous other benefits.