Stories & Voices
Not Just "for the Birds"
Fine-Feathered Friends Help With Therapy
April 25th, 2022
UJA Federation of New York >>

Cats, dogs, and other furry animals are well-known providers of animal-assisted therapy. But birds are chirping in, too.

This past winter the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) expanded their Animal-Assisted Therapy Center in Sderot to include a bird sanctuary. The ITC, created by UJA in 2001 in response to the intifada, is now a leading global expert in crisis response, assisting in the aftermath of natural disasters and violent attacks worldwide. Always on the cutting edge of trauma recovery, ITC advances creative approaches like the Sderot bird sanctuary. 

ITC therapists see firsthand how the gentle flapping of wings, the splash of a bird bathing in a water fountain, and the quiet space for reflection are all helping children, families, and adults cope as they receive counseling for trauma from many wars, rocket bombardments, and the pandemic.

The bird sanctuary is a refuge for 300 people each week, and also serves as an experiential teaching tool with therapeutic benefits.

During one recent visit, parrots help a mom and daughter better understand the dynamics between them. A counselor brings the pair to watch parrots that are skittish and squawking loudly, and then visit birds in the sanctuary that are calm and quiet. After the visits, the counselor discusses the different birds and asks how the mom and daughter felt with the birds’ different energy levels. This sparks a conversation between the mom and daughter about why they may not always get along. 

“I feel like my daughter is like the parrots,” the mom shares. “I react negatively to her impulsivity and disorder.”

In response to this realization, the counselor teaches the mom and daughter exercises to help them relax and remain calm even when they are faced with each other’s differences.

Another therapist, working with a group of young girls who tend to be shy, notes that as the girls care for the birds, they become more animated and open with each other — a process that helps with their recovery from trauma.

Each day at the bird sanctuary, amid this serene space, Israelis are finding comfort and new insights to help rebuild their lives.