Author: John Carter

Animal therapy: How it works, benefits, and more

how does animal therapy work

The book is a good resource for interested readers and new and established clinicians looking to improve and better understand the human–animal bond. This book is a must for anyone who wants to know more about the process behind AAT and the human–animal bond. This book by Dr. Chandler explains human–animal relational theory and how different treatment models can be integrated with AAT. These practices are designed to engage the sensory, cognitive, and neuromotor systems and are often used with clients with neurological or motor conditions, such as autism or developmental disorders. Self psychologists look at the work of the therapy animal slightly differently, stating that the therapy animal functions as a self-object, which helps the human client integrate different aspects of the self (Brown, 2004). The presence of a therapy animal itself may be a behavioral reward for some clients and encourage them to attend sessions regularly (Compitus, 2021b).

  1. But is there a mismatch between the media coverage of AAT and the evidence that these therapies actually work?
  2. They also often provide special liability insurance and may help you connect with programs that are looking to work with therapy animals.
  3. There may be a chance of them spreading these infections to other people, making thorough testing important for any animal.
  4. People who do not respond well to animal therapy or are not interested in trying it may ask about other options.
  5. For many people, by interacting with a friendly animal, they can form a bond with them.

Research still needs to pinpoint the underlying mechanisms that dictate all these benefits that come from interacting with animals, or why humans seem to be generally inclined to interact with animals with such positive outcomes. But ultimately, when it comes to animal-assisted therapy, most of the studies point at the human-animal bond as the key factor to achieve the positive effects. In the same study above-mentioned where participants were stressed over the thought of holding a tarantula, some were petting plush toy versions of rabbits or turtles, but this didn’t display the same effects on the human participants. The animals represent a distraction from other upsetting thoughts, whereas the plush toys don’t.

A Child’s First Experience with Animal-Assisted Therapy

Studies suggest that people who pet animals experience the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin hormones that can play a part in elevating moods. Patients not only experienced an increase in endorphin release, but a decrease in secretion of stress hormones, like cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. This all contributes to the overall improvement that has been observed in patients exposed to animal-assisted therapy. 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.

how does animal therapy work

Animal-assisted psychotherapy (AAP) is a mental health specialty in which appropriately credentialed mental health providers, working within their professional scope of practice, leverage the human-animal bond to treat their clients. Animal Assisted Therapy is conducted by licensed practitioners like psychotherapists, social workers, or other mental health experts. The practitioner creates a formal treatment plan complete with therapeutic animal activities, patient goals, and ways to track the progress and effectiveness of the treatment. Animal therapy, also called pet therapy or animal assisted therapy, refers to various services using animals to help people with specific physical or mental health conditions.

Physical health

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. 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. Those with allergies or open wounds that could be infected also should be cautious. 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.

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. In controlled clinical conditions, she discovered that the presence of the dogs enhanced the children’s alertness and openness to social contact and helped the children become more psychologically well-balanced. She further found that the therapeutic effect was most significant in children who had felt the worst before having contact with the dogs. Therapy animals can allow clients to feel emotionally and physically safe, depending on the type of therapy animal. Clients may feel more inclined to open up to therapists and discuss difficult subjects (Chandler, 2017).

This suggests that AAT will work for all clients but may be especially helpful for those who have disorganized attachment styles, since they often have lower levels of oxytocin in their systems (Compitus, 2021a). The increase in oxytocin that happens during AAT suggests that there is a biological justification for AAT as a treatment model (Compitus, 2021b). An extensive amount of research shows the medical benefits of spending time with animals. There are several medical and psychological benefits to interacting with animals, regardless of whether it is our own pet or another animal (Compitus, 2019).

We can say that pets provide a safe place for people, and during illness or emotional struggle, this can be very helpful in the process of recovery. A number of organizations train handlers and connect them to healthcare providers. Before getting approval for therapy use, both the animal and the handler will have to go through various certifications with these groups and organizations. The positive interactions with an animal may lead to benefits in the mind and body, such as reduced stress and an overall more balanced mental and emotional state.

Animal-assisted activities (AAA) are designed to enhance the wellbeing of humans but do not have to be conducted by a mental health professional. We most often see AAA in hospitals, when an animal comes for a friendly visit with patients. Most therapy animals are dogs, but cats, horses, rabbits, and any species can be used as long as they are well-trained and compatible with the services they provide to the people needing help.

Animals can help combat loneliness and boost social support, both through interactions with the animal and interactions that involve other people. Animals can lead people to get more physical activity than they would otherwise. Dogs are the most popular pets in animal-assisted therapy programs, but the benefits derived from this kind of therapy are seen with other animals. Playing and petting a dog is nice, but therapies with crickets or animal farms showed that people improved their focus and mood by looking after these animals.

Download 3 Free Positive Psychology Tools Pack (PDF)

I strongly suggest that clinicians self-educate by reading the books listed below and keep up to date on new and emerging journal articles in AAT. I also suggest that clinicians take continuing education classes in order to learn more about this field. It is an adaptive adjunctive modality that can be integrated into most existing models (Chandler, 2017). In addition, the release of endorphins such as oxytocin may increase the client’s sense of wellbeing, which in turn, could allow them to open up to the therapeutic process.

Certifications and courses

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. Pet Partners, formally known as the Delta Society, is one of the oldest therapy animal certification organizations in the United States.

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. The handler must generally pass an instructional course on how to interact with people and perform the types of therapies that they may provide. Animals may be able to provide comfort, alert others if someone is in danger, or even perform direct actions to help a person’s condition when they are in need.

Unfortunately, when it comes to animal-assisted therapy studies, two problems loom large. Every now and then I receive the newsletter from my alma mater to inform me about new programs, activities, and in general, make me feel like I’m still part of the family and under consideration. Since I’m a few thousands of miles away, I don’t pay much attention, as the most likely scenario is that I won’t be able to make it to whatever event they’re inviting me to across the pond. It is not a basis for the treatment of any condition and should only enhance or complement other treatment.

This form of physical contact may be especially beneficial for survivors of abuse or sexual assault who may feel threatened by the touch of another human being. It can allow clients to reintegrate these feelings – the need to be touched with the fear of being touched – in a safe and healthy way. Any type of therapist may conduct AAT, including occupational or physical therapists, although when we refer to AAT, we are typically speaking about animal-assisted psychotherapy.