Therapy and counselling
AAT is now used throughout the world. Historically, pets have
been used as “therapeutic” animals for centuries. Animal assisted therapy or AAT and AAA or animal assisted
activities are interrelated. They involve the use of pets to provide physical, psychological, emotional or other
types of support to children, adults and the elderly.
Many studies support the use of animals in “pet therapy.”
Psychologists are one example of therapists that often use animals to reduce depression or anxiety or to
initiate a trusting bond between their patient and the psychotherapist. This can allow for greater socialization
and more productive and positive patient outcomes.
Physical therapists may use animals including dogs or horses
to help patients build greater self-confidence or self-esteem, gain control of their mobility or help patients
become more mobile generally. Many educators use animals in the classroom to facilitate more attentive learning
and to initiate greater socialization in the classroom setting.
Pets can also be used to improve the quality of life for
individuals living in a hospice or in assisted living facilities, by introducing playfulness, love and affection
in an otherwise dull environment.
The type of AAT program one utilizes will depend on many
factors, including their goals, expectations and objectives. While anyone can use AAT to improve or enhance
their quality of life, it is important one realize that not all animals are appropriate for “pet
As pets are often introduced into anxiety-filled or stressful
situations, it is important animals are carefully screened to ensure they are not overly stressed or worse,
react negatively when placed in a high-stress or demanding environment. The good news is therapists and pet
owners in general have a wide selection of animals readily available to them they can use to enhance the quality
of their life, whether through formal AAT programs or informally, as in the case of a dog introduced into a
family of children or into a home where a widow requires a loving companion.
One of the more common uses of pet therapy are in
psychological or mental health settings, where patients may experience a vast array of symptoms ranging from
fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression or even experience socialization and trust inabilities.
When used in these environments, a therapist will often work
with a patient to outline very specific, measurable and attainable objectives or goals for animal assisted
therapy. It may take a bit of coaxing to encourage a patient to be open to the idea of using an animal as part
of therapy. But as AAT becomes more commonplace, therapists are likely to experience less resistance at the idea
of animal assisted therapy.
Here are some examples of goals counselling professionals
have when using AAT for psychological or mental health therapy:
Ø Can help patient develop better socialization skills so they can
communicate well with others.
Ø May help reduce feelings of isolation and
Ø Brightens many patients outlook or encourages feelings of
Ø Helps some patients improve memory.
Ø May help patients suffering from loss or grief.
Ø May help curb abusive behavior by teaching compassion and humane
Ø Can help improve trust between therapist and client, and among
client and others.
Animals used in these settings may provoke greater trust,
which in turn will improve patient outcomes and enable the therapist to do what he or she does best when it
comes to counselling.