Researchers caution parents against expecting miracles from dolphin therapy.
"The most recent take is there's no evidence that dolphin therapy produces any long-term effects on the symptoms of any major disorders," says Emory University psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, PhD, who along with Emory psychologist Lori Marino, PhD, has been reviewing dolphin-therapy studies since the early 1990s. Children enjoy working with the dolphins, and animals can be potent short-term motivators, adds Lilienfeld, but the same benefits can be gained from any pet or a motivated, empathic therapist.
What's more, many dolphin-therapy sites are not regulated, and wild-caught dolphins could potentially harm children, he says. Finally, dolphin therapy is often expensive. For example, a one-week program at Island Dolphin Care costs $2,200.
"Time, energy and money are forfeited when people seek out these treatments, and there's always a danger that they won't seek out treatments that are more effective," says Lilienfeld. "Save your money: Maybe get a dog or put that money into better-tested treatments."