A handsome cat is proving the therapeutic benefit of being able to pat an animal during a counselling session.
During therapy sessions at her Humffray Street practice, Marguerite Middling has learnt the benefits of having her cat, Buddy the Maine Coon, around for pats and cuddles with her clients.
While she has had pet moggies previously, it wasn't until a friend touted the benefits of having a cat at her practice that Ms Middling decided to implement the idea at Heywood-Lane Counselling.
She researched appropriate cat breeds and discovered Maine Coons were frequently employed to be therapy cats due to their friendly natures.
After bringing Buddy into her home and her practice, the now 10-month-old feline has become a hit with clients both children and adults.
When he was a small kitten Buddy would wait for clients and follow them into the room for their sessions.
As he has grown older he mostly spends his days sleeping in the room but if he has had a break to complete other cat business and a session has started, he will knock on the door in a request to enter.
Buddy has not been specially trained as a therapy cat but will happily sit on a client's lap and fall asleep during a session or curl up in his bed and purr contentedly as clients stroke him.
Ms Middling said clients found him "comforting to have in the room" as they speak to her about what could often be difficult topics.
Whether he is sidling up for a sniff and a pat or rolling around on the floor, she said Buddy was not only an emotional support but would also make clients laugh.
This has been especially beneficial as mental health issues increased and more people reached out for help during the coronavirus pandemic.
"He settles people in the room down. There is something about him - he is so soft and cute," Ms Middling said.
"He just seems to know what to do and people love him."
While therapy dogs are not a new concept, cats are now proving that they too can offer great comfort and can provide beneficial emotional support to people experiencing stress, anxiety or depression.
Ms Middling previously worked with Ballarat Health Services but has run a private practice in Ballarat for 25 years.
An accredited mental health social worker, she works with children and adults with mental illness, but also others simply in need of support - such as with couples or family therapy.
He settles people in the room down. There is something about him.
"I love it. I love helping people," she told The Courier.
But Ms Middling had a scare earlier this week when Buddy went missing.
"At four o'clock in the morning I was going around looking for him and couldn't find him in any rooms or locked in any cupboards," she said.
Buddy was missing 48 hours, during which time she walked the streets, posted to social media and dropped flyers in letterboxes with growing fears he had been taken.
Looking a bit scraggly and meowing for his dinner, Ms Middling felt immense relief when she found Buddy waiting on the back doorstep on Tuesday night "as if nothing had happened".
"He was gone for a couple of days but then reappeared as large as life."
After a day of sessions without Buddy, she really noticed a difference in not having him around so she is keeping her beloved companion very close.
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