Author: James Anderson

Animal-Assisted Therapy: How it Helps

what is animal assisted therapy

Almost any domesticated animal can be an ESA, including dogs, cats, birds, pigs, hamsters, mice, rabbits, and miniature horses. 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.

Equine-assisted therapy encompasses a range of treatments that involve activities with horses and other equines to promote human physical and mental health. Animal Assisted Therapy is when animals are used in goal directed treatment sessions. A visitation program is when animals accompany their owners to a facility and visit with the patients or residents. Regardless of the type of program, all animals should be temperament tested, given a complete veterinary screening, and receive obedience training before beginning to work with patients. Although there are no set standards covering all animal-assisted therapy, some therapists will belong to organisations that have specific ethical or training requirements.

what is animal assisted therapy

It can be used to help people with a wide range of challenges, from helping to build communication skills in autistic children to managing grief, loss, and stress in older adults. Animal therapy can be used alone or with other treatment options including medications and talk therapies. Animal-assisted therapy can provide both mental health and medical benefits.

What Is Animal Therapy?

Since pet therapy animals don’t need task-specific training the way service animals do, there are more kinds of animals that can participate. Therapy animals support the therapeutic process rather than leading it. Examples include equine therapy for kids with anxiety and canine therapy for childhood trauma. On the whole, the goal of animal assisted therapy is to alleviate or help people cope with some symptoms of various conditions where possible. Animal-assisted therapy often serves in conjunction with traditional work done by a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, or other mental health care provider. Emotional support animals (ESAs) offer emotional and mental support to their owners.

You may be able to get a lower rate if you’re willing to work with a clinical intern rather than a licensed therapist. Because there aren’t specific tasks they need to learn, more types of animals can participate in animal-assisted therapy. Some people may be allergic to the animals that commonly play a role in therapy. Many people are allergic to the dander from a dog’s shedding, for example.

Cognitive rehabilitation treatment

In addition, owners must provide proof that all vaccinations are current. Animals that participate in Visitation or AAT programs are placed in very stressful situations each time they work with patients. It is essential for the safety of the patients that the animals instinctively react in a safe, predictable way regardless of the setting. While animal-assisted therapy can help many people, more rigorous clinical trials are needed to assess its efficacy. Research suggests that some studies of the treatment are methodologically flawed.

  1. Being in the presence of pets again can help remind people of the love they had for previous animals, stirring memories and reducing loneliness.
  2. It can be used to help people with a wide range of challenges, from helping to build communication skills in autistic children to managing grief, loss, and stress in older adults.
  3. A study in Psychogeriatrics found that dog assisted therapy in long-term elderly care facilities helped reduce symptoms of depression.
  4. The therapy can take many forms, based on the patient, the animal, and the goals for treatment.
  5. You may walk with dogs, collect eggs from hens or cuddle a guinea pig.

Some people may not enjoy animal therapy or have other reasons to avoid it, and they can choose from alternative therapies. People who do not respond well to animal therapy or are not interested in trying it may ask about other options. They may not choose this type of therapy as it would cause them more stress.

Benefits of animal-assisted therapy

Grief camps, for example, offer children who have experienced personal loss the opportunity to work through emotional experiences with horses or dogs. A review study notes that animal therapy appears to provide general benefits for both physical and psychological health. Evidence for animal assisted therapy appears strongest for markers of anxiety and depression in the widest range of people. Consult a physician if you have any health conditions that might affect or complicate an experience with animal-assisted psychotherapy. As always, collaborate with your mental health professional to select an animal-assisted modality that will provide the most benefit and lead to positive emotional progress.

How clients interact with the animals gives therapists a sense of how they form relationships and attachments. Much of the work is with metaphors – discussing how clients  are responding to the animals in terms of something else in their lives. Animals that might serve in a therapy capacity include, but are not limited to horses, dogs, dolphins, fish, birds, and small pet rodents such as rats or hamsters. Eligibility depends on the care setting and the condition of the person to receive the therapy.

However, more research is necessary to confirm the benefits of animal therapy. 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. Training is teaching an animal to follow commands while under the control of a human. Successful therapy and visitation animals must have sound temperament and obedience training.

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. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development. This article will explain types of animal therapy, the conditions in which animal therapy may offer benefits, who facilitates and provides animal therapy, and more.