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How Parrots Can Help People with PTSD

Me with my own very brave and loving parrot mentor.
Me with my own very brave and loving parrot mentor.

Out in California, something special is taking place.

At a sanctuary called Serenity Park, traumatized parrots and traumatized people are connecting for mutual healing.

What is interesting about this is, well, pretty much everything (of course, as a lifelong parrot lover, I may be just a touch biased here).

The people participants are formerly homeless veterans (both men and women) victimized by the many and varying traumas associated with wartime military service.

The parrot participants have been victimized by a different kind of war – mainly abuse by or loss of their human owners.

On both sides, there are emotional and mobility issues to contend with. But in all cases, it is clear that the interspecies participants’ minds are still sharp and eager to heal.

Speaking of minds, there is no doubt in mine that the pioneering work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her now-passed African Grey parrot, Alex, (two of my own most cherished mentors) are responsible for laying the foundation for what is going on at Serenity Park right now.

Thanks to Alex & Dr. Pepperberg, we know that parrots can display emotional and cognitive abilities to rival young humans. We know they feel deeply, form intense social bonds, understand abstract reasoning and have the capacity to develop complex and extensive vocabularies.

This means that, in some capacity, parrots may be even better suited than dogs to participate in animal-assisted therapy as service and support partners.

Perhaps this is what veteran volunteer Lilly Love meant when she told New York Times reporter Charles Siebert,

You can look in their eyes….any of these parrots’ eyes, and I myself see a soul. I see a light in there. And when they look at you, they see right into your soul. Look around. They’re all watching. They notice everything. It’s intense. 

But there is another aspect at work which isn’t always present with service animals, which is that these parrots clearly need a lot of help themselves. And this is where the mentoring component shines through so clearly.

Beings who have been traumatized learn about trust in a unique way (and I say this from my own experiences with trauma and from working with hundreds of women and men through the eating disorders mentoring nonprofit I founded in 2009, MentorCONNECT).

For example, I have seen the unusual path the traumatized often take in choosing who to trust and who not to trust. It is like we look in a different way – past all the surface impressions (including those of species) and right into the soul. We look for a certain key element – a type of “street credit” – that only a shared background in trauma combined with an iron will survival instinct can create.

This doesn’t mean that anyone who has experienced trauma is automatically trustworthy – far from it. But those who have experienced trauma and are actively striving to heal and grow back into vibrant and contributing members of the greater community certainly are – and that is what we look for when we decide whether or not to trust, to open up, to welcome the other into our life.

To this point, the strongest mentoring bonds I’ve seen to date have arisen between mentors and mentees who both have something significant to gain from the partnership – and know it.

Here again, species doesn’t matter. What matters is courage – bravery is one trait that is near-universally admired and desired.

Today’s Takeaway: The full article is HERE – some readers have suggested it should be nominated for a Pulitzer, and I have to say I agree. [NOTE: If you are very sensitive to stories about animal trauma, you may not want to read the actual article!] Have you ever formed an intense healing bond that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to make mental sense? If so, have you ever had to deal with others questioning your choice of mentor? What was so valuable in that partnership? What helped you to trust that your healing path could be found there?

How Parrots Can Help People with PTSD

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Songwriter. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). How Parrots Can Help People with PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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