Assisted Therapy works
As with any therapy, there are many theories and reasons why
pet therapy seems to work well for patients.
Researchers agree that animals are wonderful creatures for
lowering anxiety and tension. They can also sometimes motivate patients to achieve therapy goals when a
therapist alone struggles to accomplish this. Typically, a therapist will engage in a formal style of therapy,
but incorporate the use of an animal while doing so, whether to put the client at ease or to facilitate a
greater response from therapy. This works because using an animal can introduce an informal but friendly
presence into an otherwise formal and often intimidating environment.
The presence of a dog or other obedient and calm animal often
engages the client and puts them more at ease. A patient for example, may end up stroking an animal to calm
their own anxiety or fears when meeting a therapist for the first time. This in turn allows for a more trusting
relationship, such that the therapist is able to interact more openly with the client or patient when they are
Pet therapy also works well with children, especially when
used in educational environments or classroom.
Here are some examples of how AAT benefits children in
Ø Encourages students and children to
learn about nurturing and loving others in a non-threatening environment.
Ø Stimulates and engages children in
Ø Helps students learn to care
compassionately for the animal, which may translate into more compassion for other students.
Ø Helps children learn how humans and
animals can bond with each other.
Ø Teaches children about
responsibility and loyalty to their animals.
Ø May help reduce violent activities
in school by encouraging humane attitudes and gentle feelings toward animals and humans alike.
But WHY does AAT work? Researchers have differing opinions
about this. The most logical answers are that most animals used in AAT are social creatures. They are loyal and
attentive. They are eager to help and create a sense of community. They bring out an individual’s playfulness,
whether the individual in question is a child, adult or elderly citizen.
Consider for example, a playful pup in the hands of an
elderly person living in an assisted living facility. The simple presence of the pup might induce happiness, joy
and remind the patient of their inner child and their natural tendency to want to play. Playing is one of the
best methods of healing, because it is simple, easy, and naturally stress-reducing.
Playing makes people laugh.
In other environments, animals are the sole providers of
emotional support, capable of building self-esteem. They do not judge. They do not criticize. You may make a
mistake, and often an animal will love you unconditionally, regardless of your own perceived ineptitude or
inability. These are just a few reasons researchers hypothesize AAT works.
How can one doubt their efficacy? Human beings have relied on
animals for support since the dawn of time. They are in fact, members of our family, even if members of a
Many animals are highly intelligent, capable of learning,
capable of showing feelings, including love, sadness, fear or anxiety. Look at primates as a primary example.
Many primates demonstrate relationships very similar to human relationships. Mother primates for example, care
for their children with the same love and affection a human being might. Some studies show that elephant mothers
actually demonstrate sadness or grief at the loss of one of their children, whether from sickness, fatigue or
capture by more aggressive animals.
In a world that is full of creatures of many different
shapes, sizes and forms, it is remarkable how many similarities exist among all creatures.
Human beings are animals after all, in their own right, so
why wouldn’t animals have a naturally capacity to heal, love, protect, nurture and defend?
Animal therapy is not something new, it is something “newly
labelled.” Now that it is becoming more mainstream, more people are likely to look at animals or pets in a new
light, and offer them greater support, kindness and understanding.