Animal-Assisted Therapy: How it Helps

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. Animal-assisted therapies (AAT) are approaches to mental health care that incorporate animals into the psychotherapy process, emphasizing the bond created during human-animal interactions.

  1. Indeed, detailed information regarding the health surveillance protocols are desirable in order to correctly evaluate the considered interventions.
  2. Teachers and therapists find that students make greater gains when working with animals.
  3. If you are in a hospital, school, nursing home, rehabilitation center, or another type of community center, you might not have a relationship with a psychotherapist, but a volunteer with a trained therapy pet might visit you.
  4. The studies regarding adults were rare, but they considered different diseases including orthopaedic surgery and high-risk pregnancies [31], [32], [33], [34], [35], [36].

Results revealed a significant improvement in pain levels as well decreased irritation and stress. In order for the therapy visit to be effective, the animal should be trained, and there needs to be a well-defined goal established prior to the therapy initiating. An established goal helps guide the session and ensure that the person is getting the healing benefit they desire out of the interaction.

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The increase in oxytocin that happens during AAT suggests that there is a biological justification for AAT as a treatment model (Compitus, 2021b). Three investigators (EC, GP and GV) independently conducted a first literature search, sorting sources by title and abstract. During the first screening, the irrelevant or duplicated papers were excluded. Finally, the researchers independently assessed ecstasy withdrawal symptoms the articles considering the criteria enunciated above. Anyone who dislikes or fears animals or is allergic to them, is not a likely candidate for this particular intervention. “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.

What is animal-assisted therapy?

People who do not respond well to animal therapy or are not interested in trying it may ask about other options. 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. For example, a therapy dog cannot accompany a handler into a business establishment. Imagine going to the hospital to have surgery and being able to take your favorite pet with you. While that scenario is unlikely to happen due to hospital protocols, you can, in reality, have a dog, cat or even a horse help with your recovery. This is especially true when it comes to treating chronic pain disorders, which often uniquely affect people.

Animal-Assisted Activities vs Pet Therapy

In children, research has found that pet therapy can decrease emotional distress during a painful medical procedure and provide a calmness to children with post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies on human-animal interactions are very few indicating the need for more research in this area. Existing studies showed how a pet can help with mental health and positive physical health effects, but the results have been mixed. Pet therapy refers to the use of animals as aides in the treatment of mental and physical disorders. It usually involves a guided interaction between a patient and a trained “therapy animal”. Of course, when thinking of animal welfare, we must remember how we speak about our therapy animals (Compitus, 2020).

In this case, the authors excluded immunocompromised patients, newborns and patients in post-anesthesia care units. Moreover, the authors registered overall positive evaluations of the nurses regarding the guidelines implementation [38]. The work of Jofrè et al. consisted in a review of guidelines, in order to achieve a consensus regarding animal use in healthcare settings.

For example, Maggie O’Haire of Purdue University reviewed 14 clinical trials on the effects of AAT on children suffering from autism spectrum disorders (here). Indeed, children with autism who underwent AAT showed, in stat-speak, “statistically significant” improvements on 27 of the 30 outcomes measures. Lefebvre et al. conducted a cross-sectional survey in the Ontario hospitals in order to assess the presence and characteristics of Canine Visitation Programs for inpatients. Moreover, the authors interviewed the dog handlers regarding the health protocols for AAA.

The studies involving oncological patients showed physiological benefits, like pain reduction [26], and psychological benefits like decreased loneliness, increased relaxation, socialization and self-esteem [8]. These findings are consistent with a study conducted in acute pediatric care [22]. Four studies evaluated the satisfaction after the intervention and the effects on psychosocial behaviors [8], [22], [24], [25], instead four considered also physiological phenomena [23], [26], [27], [28]. Two studies were conducted through a survey among parents and caregivers [22], [24], while in two these data were integrated with children self-reports [8], [25]. Many different physiological parameters like pain [23], [26] or cardiovascular response [27], [28] were evaluated. Furthermore, the risks of implementing animal therapeutic interventions especially in hospitals are not negligible, and these hazards must be considered [16], [17].

The number of dog-visits significantly increased during the observation, and no infection nor issues animal-related were reported [36]. You and your therapist may discuss your animal while you are working with it, or you might set aside another time to talk about your experiences. If you are in a hospital, school, nursing home, rehabilitation center, or another type of community center, you might not have a relationship with a psychotherapist, but a volunteer with a trained therapy pet might visit you.

The final course requirement is an in-person evaluation of the therapy animal and handler. Those who are already certified may further qualify as an animal-assisted crisis response team. The book includes examples of animal-assisted interventions using different types of animals for different scenarios. Any counselor who wants to grow their knowledge and ultimately incorporate AAT into their practice will find this book valuable. Although there is potentially a therapeutic benefit to interactions with any species, only dogs compare to horses in their close and symbiotic relationship with humans.

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