Author: Alex Thompson

Animal-Assisted Therapy: How it Helps

what is animal assisted therapy

Get the help you need from a therapist near you–a FREE service from Psychology Today.

For example, a therapy dog cannot accompany a handler into a business establishment. Your therapist should be qualified, experienced and a member of a professional body, such as BACP, which demonstrates they’re committed to working to high professional and ethical standards. In some cases, a person may become very attached to the animal rather quickly.

Eligibility depends on the care setting and the condition of the person to receive the therapy. Animal therapy has many favorable outcomes, including relaxation, talk therapy breakthroughs, relief of symptoms, and overall improved well-being. People with compromised immune function should check with their healthcare team prior to trying animal therapy because animals may carry diseases without their handlers being aware of them.

what is animal assisted therapy

Improved mood and reduced anxiety tend to be consistent results with AAT. Individuals who perceive hostility or disregard from other humans may come to accept the nonjudgmental and unconditional affection and attention from an animal, instead. Studies of AAT demonstrate these results in nearly all participants, regardless of age, the duration of the session, or the severity of symptoms. If you’re interested in trying animal-assisted therapy, having a conversation with a doctor or mental health specialist is a good place to start.

Equine-related therapy

Dogs and cats are often used with people struggling with anxiety or depression. When he turned eleven, he had a growth spurt that caught him up to most other kids his age. His aunt started the formal adoption process, which increased his sense of security and belongingness and (no big surprise here) substantially reduced his acting out. Oh, and my co-therapist was there too, curled up nose-to-tail on her blanket in the footwell of my desk. Lucy was a soft-coated golden retriever, big for her breed but gentle and playful, with warm brown eyes and extravagant whiskers.

  1. If you’ve ever felt comforted by your family pet, you’ve had a glimpse into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
  2. In an age where traditional extended families are disappearing, 99% of pet owners consider pets their closest companions and family members.
  3. He proudly led her on walks in the neighborhood around the office, saying to passersby, “This is Lucy, and see how well she listens to me?” She did, too.
  4. She further found that the therapeutic effect was most significant in children who had felt the worst before having contact with the dogs.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is the use of animals alongside traditional treatment techniques to help people with certain mental health disorders. It’s also called “pet therapy” or “pet-assisted therapy.” Involving animals in treatment can help people with developmental disorders, disabilities, and other concerns. While unlikely to be harmful, they may or may not produce desired therapeutic benefits and should be further researched to determine their long-term effects. Others, such as equine therapy, have a wealth of research supporting their positive impact on recipients’ mental health.

“I guess we’ll see.” I unlocked my door to reveal a nicely equipped play therapy room, complete with a comfy sofa, a small table and a couple of chairs, and open shelves displaying games, puppets, and other supplies. His father was unknown, his mother struggled with addiction, and he’d done time in foster care and residential treatment. He was impulsive and socially isolated, bullied by others for his small size (at ten, he was the size of an eight-year-old), and he’d been expelled from school for fire-setting. It is important to note that a therapy dog is not the same as a service dog and does not have all of the same rights.

Therapists may also partner with an animal-therapy program, such as Pet Partners, to provide individuals or groups with trained therapy animals. Animal therapy is the use of an animal to provide comfort, emotional support, and therapeutic care to people with a variety of health challenges in different situations. It is often used for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but can also be used for physical conditions and the emotional component of physical disease. Despite these complications, investigative experiments have been completed that support AAP as a beneficial intervention. One study by German psychiatrist Anke Prothmann introduced therapy dogs to psychiatrically hospitalized children in free play.

Animal-assisted therapy

Pets may help teach children the responsibilities of daily living, compassion for other creatures who share our planet, and the cycles of life and death. Emotional support animals (ESAs) offer emotional and mental support to their owners. Almost any domesticated animal can be an ESA, including dogs, cats, birds, pigs, hamsters, mice, rabbits, and miniature horses. There are many benefits of animal therapy that go well beyond feelings of comfort and emotional support. A 2015 study linked therapeutic time with animals to reduced pain levels after surgery. Children hospitalized for cancer treatment also experienced reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thanks to time spent in animal-assisted therapy.

This rigorous testing and certification ensures the safety and professionalism of everyone involved and helps give the person access to the best therapy sessions possible. Animal therapy builds on a concept called the human-animal bond, which describes people’s desire to interact with and relate to animals. For many people, by interacting with a friendly animal, they can form a bond with them. Therapists should have measures in place to ensure the animals’ welfare, such as only selecting suitable animals, in some cases giving them training, and ensuring they have opportunities to unwind and play after sessions.

Autism spectrum disorder

AAT, by definition, involves the active participation of a mental health professional. Studies that evaluate the benefits of AAT generally do not include evidence gathered from this particular population. It’s important to note that emotional support animals can’t cure mental illness. ESAs are typically used alongside therapy practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Some residential treatment centers are organized around long-term AAT, offering a camp-like environment, programs for nature immersion, animal training sessions, and other opportunities.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer in association with animals that meet specific criteria. These are generally the basic short meet-and-greet sessions of pets visiting people in a hospital, long-term care center, etc. Specific treatment goals are not planned for each visit, detailed notes and documentation are not required, and visits are spontaneous and can be as short or long as necessary. Whatever the intervention – which is limited only by our creativity – AAT/AAA are based on an age-old concept. Pets are a friendly, non-threatening common denominator in most American homes. Most children have experienced positive emotional connections with animals while growing up.

It aims to help people cope with both physical and mental health disorders. On the whole, the goal of animal assisted therapy is to alleviate or help people cope with some symptoms of various conditions where possible. While results are promising, further research is needed to show the effectiveness of animal-assisted interventions in treating post-traumatic stress disorder for sexual assault survivors across varying demographics. Limitations in current research include small sample sizes and reliance on anecdotal evidence. A wide variety of animals can assist individuals in psychotherapy, and some may need to exercise caution around some animals. For example, horses can pose significant dangers due to their weight and size, especially for children.

She is also a full-time faculty member in the MSW department at Saint Leo University. In therapy, he practiced social skills with Lucy, working cooperatively to teach her new tricks and skills. He proudly led her on walks in the neighborhood around the office, saying to passersby, “This is Lucy, and see how well she listens to me?” She did, too.