Animal Assisted Therapy

Defining AAT

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy also known as AAT? Chandler defined AAT as a goal directed, planned, and structured intervention that involves a positive human-animal interaction in the clinical setting. In AAT, the trained and certified animal is used as a therapeutic modality to enhance and complement the benefits of traditional therapy through the human-animal bond. This bond elicits pleasure by shifting the client’s focus from their mental illnesses and stressors to the therapy animal. AAT can be used to address stress, anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, self-esteem issues, loneliness, socialization challenges, addiction, schizophrenia, emotional and behavior problems in children, Alzheimer’s disease, trauma, etc. AAT can be a complementary to antidepressants or be beneficial as a non-pharmacological intervention. There are different types of AAT, the most common types being Canine Assisted Therapy (CAT) and Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT). AAT services can be provided at major hospitals, therapists’ offices, psychology treatment centers, rehabilitation centers, and schools.

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Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond

Therapy animals act as a social and emotional support for clients and can facilitate trusting relationships, rapport building, emotional processing, and emotional regulation. The therapy animal’s role is to help client’s feel more comfortable, relaxed, and safer in sessions. Therapy animals can provide unconditional positive regard, unconditional acceptance, empathy, congruence, promote self-regulatory behavior, and biofeedback to improve mindfulness. Therapy animals can also increase a client’s focus, motivation, attention, willingness and engagement, and retention. The human-animal bond in AAT can positively improve affect, self-worth, self-regulation, socialization skills, and problem-solving skills. The presence of the therapy animal and the human-animal bond can also help lower blood pressure and elevate oxytocin and dopamine.

The Future

Although there are so many physical and mental health benefits, AAT services are not very common. Hopefully there will be more AAT services provided in the future as it would be another beneficial factor in the therapeutic field. After learning more about AAT, would you be interested in incorporating a therapy animal in future sessions?


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