Animal Assisted Therapy
..“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”
― Dean Koontz
What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?
It is widely recognised that animals provide much needed physical comfort. Animals have the ability to form strong connections with humans and vice versa, sometimes referred to as the Human-Animal bond. A growing awareness of how helpful this bond can be in a therapeutic context has led to the establishment of many AAT programmes.
Animals offer affection and unconditional acceptance. They are responsive, live in the ‘here and now’ and don’t mind who you are or what you look like. They are usually direct and honest and unlike humans they are non-judgemental. Animals don’t criticise, hold grudges, change the rules or otherwise confuse through verbal communications. In fact some clients actually feel safer and less threatened around animals. Being with animals can encourage our nurturing and empathic traits and, for survivors of abuse, offer an opportunity for ‘safe touch’.
Studies suggest that it is particularly effective for vulnerable people including those with emotional and behavioural problems. Working alongside animals offers practitioners a different way of exploring difficult and sensitive issues as clients may find it easier to express their feelings and recount painful experiences.
Where clients are suffering from depression, research indicates benefits such as focus of interest and positive attention, as well as pleasure in handling animals. Time spent stroking and talking to dogs can result in lowering blood pressure, relieving pain, reducing anxiety levels and enhanced mood.
The recognised benefits of interactions between people and animals include: •
AAT aims to promote mental, physical and social well-being. Many people can benefit from this intervention and it is currently being used in a variety of settings including hospitals, special schools and colleges, prisons, residential care and in counselling practices.
Working with a dog develops a very close partnership and there are many therapeutic benefits. Using dog agility as a therapy is beneficial for both adults and children.
Many adults/children find the intensity of being in a therapy room very overwhelming but being outside with a dog brings a normality to the situation allowing the therapeutic relationship to develop between both therapist and client.
Here are just some of the particular benefits of dog training :-
Development of relationships and emotional bonds built on trust and respect
Improved mood, morale and sense of self worth
Better social interaction, reducing feelings of social isolation
Relief from anxiety and stress (slower heart rate and lower blood pressure)
Pride and achievement
I use Animal Assisted Therapy that is client-centred and designed to achieve specific goals. I work mainly with dogs and follow accepted guidelines to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of both clients and animals.