Animals have a powerful, positive impact for many people. Having a pet often provides positive rewards for many individuals and families including; having the experience of a strong human-animal bond, providing comfort, companionship, feeling loved and the opportunity to provide love and care to an animal. Unconditional love in its purest form is said to be between an individual and their pet or between parent and child. Though having a pet has the potential to bring much joy, it also requires a lot of work. For many people their circumstances do not make it possible to have their own pet which can make animal-assisted psychotherapy a meaningful therapeutic option for many.
Types of Animal-Assisted Interventions
Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA)
Animal-assisted activities is typically an informal intervention, often facilitated by volunteers or non-professional people. The aim is to increase the well-being of the individual by the inclusion of an animal (i.e. visits to hospitals or nursing homes).
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)
Animal-assisted interventions are conducted by professionals in their respective fields. Interventions tend to be goal oriented and form part of a treatment plan for the individual (i.e. increasing an individuals gross motor skill by means of walking a therapy dog).
Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy (AAP)
Animal-assisted psychotherapy is a subscale of AAT. The specific focus of AAP is related to mental health and wellbeing and the intervention is delivered by a qualified mental health professional. The emphasis of AAP is on the relationship between the animal and humans as a key component for growth and change.
Assistance and Service Dogs
It is important to distinguish therapeutic dogs from service dogs. Service dogs undergo rigorous training and provide support to an indiviudal with an illness or disability. They are trained to support people with medical, physical or psychiatric disorders. Assistance or service dogs live with their owners as opposed to accompanying the professional or volunteer to the visit or intervention.
Benefits of Animal Assisted Interventions
Studies have shown that individuals who interact with an animal have positive physiological impacts including a decreased heart rate and lowered stress chemicals. Another notable finding has included pet owners generally live longer and recover quicker from a heart attack. Elderly pet owners have been found to make less visits to the doctor even in times of moderate stress. In addition to physiological benefits there are significant mental health benefits for people who enjoy being around animals including increased cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing. Some studies have shown that even for people who do not identify themselves as animal people, petting a dog significantly increased their immunoglobulin (proteins in the bloodstream that help immune systems fight disease). Studies have shown children facing high stress situations have had their stress levels decrease by 50% solely by having an animal by their side.
Issues Animal Assisted Psychotherapy and Interventions can be Beneficial for:
- Eating Disorders
- Select Mutism
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Cancer/Terminal Illness
- Grief and Loss
- Building Social Skills
- Developing Regulation Skills and Impulse Control
- Victims of crime
- Attachment difficulties
- Individuals being forensically interviewed by police
Hobart Counselling Centre can provide animal-assisted psychotherapy and interventions to individuals, organisations and businesses including; Schools, Aged Care Homes, the Department of Health and Human Services, Hospitals, Hospices, the Tasmanian Police Force and more.
When involving animals in any type of therapeutic intervention the wellbeing of the animal is paramount. It is the responsibility of the handler to ensure the animal's needs are being met and to cease the intervention if undo strain is occuring for the animal at any time.
If you are experiencing difficulties and are interested in animal-assisted interventions contact Diane McGeachy.
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