Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed by a health or human service professional with specialized expertise and within the scope of practice of his/her profession. Key features include specified goals and objectives for each individual and measured progress. The most common application model of AAT is for counselors to work in partnership with their own pet, a pet that has been evaluated and certified as appropriate for such work. (Fine, 2006).
For example, in mental health counseling, a child victim of abuse could gently pet a dog to teach the concept of appropriate touch and gentle relations; the warm and caring attitude of the therapy pet and human therapist combined reinforces the child’s positive experience.
For a pet to be a certified Animal-Assisted Therapy dog, it must pass two tests:
This is a rigorous evaluation that is includes the skills tested in the AAC CGC and also tests behaviors in situations that simulate the therapeutic environment.
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Yumi is a Certified Therapy Dog
The psychosocial and psychophysiological benefits of AAT have been well documented. For example, studies have reported quicker recovery and increased longevity for cardiac patients who owned a pet (Friedman, Katcher, Lynch & Thomas, 1980). Reductions in levels of blood pressure, stress and anxiety in children occurred when a researcher was accompanied by a pet (Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, & Massent, 1983). Decreased depression and increased socialization occurred in elderly persons interacting with residential or visiting therapy pets (Holcomb, Jendro, Weber, & Nahan, 1997). More socially appropriate behaviors occurred for children with developmental disorders when they interacted with a therapy pet (Kogan, Granger, Fitchett, Helmer, & Young, 1999).
While there is a variety of empirical research to support the psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits of AAT, there are currently relatively few empirical research studies that establish the clinical efficacy of utilizing therapy animals in counseling and related therapies. In other words, there are few studies that meet strict, required guidelines required to procedures required to deem a study scientific.
Child and Adult Therapy
Lynn Goya, M.Ed., Psy.D., Psychologist
Fine, A. (2006). Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. (2nd ed.), San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Friedmann, E., Katcher, A., Thomas, S., Lynch, J., & Messent, P. (1983). Social interaction and blood pressure: Influence of companion animals. Anthrozoos, 62, 115-133.
Holcomb, R., Jendr, C., Weber, B., & Nahan, U. (1997). Use of an aviary to relieve depression in elderly males. Anthrozoos, 10(1), 32.36.
Kogan, I.R., Granger, B.P., Fitcher, J.A., Helmer, K.A. & Young, K.J. (1999). The human-animal team approach for children with emotional disorders. Two case studies. Child and Youth Care Forum, 28(2), 105-121.