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SoulPaws, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, unleashes the benefits of the human-animal connection with clinician and peer support so that every person with an eating disorder or food and body struggles can heal.

Founded in 2016, SoulPaws was built by a team of passionate clinicians, doctors, researchers, and individuals with lived experience in eating disorder recovery. With a unique focus on neuroscience and the human-animal connection, SoulPaws Healing Circles are the first of their kind. 


Our groups are free and open to anyone struggling with food, mental health, and body image issues. Inspired by the work of Dr. Bruce Perry, a SoulPaws Advisor, our trained clinical facilitators guide participants through our Three Pillars with help from licensed therapy animals.


We honor every participant's self-determination process and the courage it takes to seek support for a mental health challenge. Whether an individual chooses to join us and simply observe or fully engages in the interactions, we hope that everyone attending is reminded of just how much their healing matters … and that they are worthy of all the tail wags, all the horse hugs, and all the love.

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Obstacle: Difficulties in regulating emotions

SoulPaws Remedy: Meditation and interactions with therapy animals help calm and regulate the body and mind

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Obstacle: The experience of feeling “cut off” from authentic connection

SoulPaws Remedy: Group and 1:1 interactions with therapy animals and peers foster opportunities to make non-judgmental and safe connections

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Obstacle: Barriers to self-reflection block healing

SoulPaws Remedy: Discussion and reflection that guides individuals toward compassion and healing.

3 Pillars of SoulPaws

No-Cost or Diagnostic Requirement

SoulPaws is breaking barriers by providing a no-cost alternative with no-diagnostic requirements for participation in our healing circles. SoulPaws uses the emergent research on Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI), neurobiology and affect regulation, while also acknowledging the diverse presentation of eating disorders and populations they impact.


Eating disorders affect people of every racial, gender, and cultural identity as well as all abilities and sexual orientations, but for decades the societal perception was that only young, cisgender, affluent, and white women developed the disorder (Schlossberg, 2021). Michael Strober, PhD, distinguished professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, advocates for the recognition of the unique cultural forces that impact the development and treatment of eating disorders in communities of color(Schlossberg, 2021).


The eating disorder treatment system is struggling because of the reverberations of the incorrect systemic beliefs that eating disorders did not exist in lower social classes or people of color (Schlossberg, 2021). Historically, diagnostic tools were developed for white female groups, and lack the comprehensive nature required to fully assess beyond body mass index (BMI) charts. If someone does not meet the BMI criteria, they cannot access eating disorder treatment.


It is theorized that there is a generally lower treatment rate for eating disorders among certain demographics because there is a difference in the clinical presentation that is not adequately captured by traditional instruments that were initially developed for white populations. People of color with self-acknowledged eating and weight concerns were significantly less likely than white participants to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms, despite similar rates of eating disorder symptoms across ethnic groups. (Becker, 2003). Data show that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are significantly less likely than white people to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms (Scholossberg, 2021). Diagnosis could bridge the difference for many patients of color, but nuances in classification have made it challenging, says Gail Wyatt, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and professor-in-residence of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA (Scholossberg, 2021). Beyond diagnostic problems, adequate access to treatment remains an additional barrier for individuals from marginalized communities with eating disorders (Becker et al., 2003).


Compounding the roadblocks to care, individuals may lack the financial resources to access treatment (Deloitte Access Economics, 2020). Institutional racism has historically led Black women to have greater rates of poverty when compared to white women (Becker et al., 2003). This poverty makes it harder to access healthcare which can make obtaining an eating disorder diagnosis difficult and costly (Deloitte Access Economics, 2020). 


(1) - Monell & Birgegard, 2018; Prefit, Candea & Szentagatai-Tatas, 2019

(2) - Dakanalis et al., 2014; Malson, 1999; Petrucelli, 2014; Piran, 2001; Stein & Corte, 2007; Strober, 1991

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