Animal Assisted Therapy

A therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals

Animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as horses, dogs, and even cats and birds into a treatment plan. This type of mental health treatment means that you receive therapy with an animal to provide comfort and support.

Animals may increase the efficacy of conventional treatment methods and can help clients heal through interacting with animals.

When is It Used?

Animal-assisted therapy can be a useful intervention for some individuals. An analysis of over 40 studies reporting on animal-assisted therapy found positive outcomes and overall improved emotional well-being in those with mental health conditions, medical conditions, or behavioral issues.

Another review of controlled studies found that animal-assisted therapy can be helpful for those battling illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, or addiction. People who have autism, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder may benefit from animal-assisted therapy.

Human-Animal Bond

According to Medical News Today: Animal therapy builds on a concept called the human-animal bond, which describes people’s desire to interact with and relate to animals. For many people, by interacting with a friendly animal, they can form a bond with them. This bond can produce a calming state in the person.

The positive interactions with an animal may lead to benefits in the mind and body, such as reduced stress and an overall more balanced mental and emotional state.

Animal-assisted therapy has been used in settings from nursing homes to prisons. Also, pediatric care centers and cognitive rehabilitation centers are using animal therapy. People can benefit from this type of therapy at various ages and for various reasons.

Benefits of Animal Therapy

Animal therapy can be used in many different ways. Animal-assisted therapy often serves in conjunction with traditional work done by a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, or other mental health–care provider.

The goals of a pet therapy program can include:

  • improving assisted or independent movement

  • increasing self-esteem

  • increasing verbal communication

  • improving motor skills and joint movement

  • developing social skills

  • improving interactions with others

  • motivating willingness to exercise

  • increasing willingness to join in activities

Animal Assisted Therapy & What Science Says

From UCLA Animal Therapy Research:

For Mental Health:

  • The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response.

  • Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.

  • Lowers anxiety and helps people relax.

  • Provides comfort.

  • Reduces loneliness.

  • Increases mental stimulation.

  • Assist in recall of memories and help sequence temporal events in patients with head injuries or chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Can provide an escape or happy distraction.

  • Can act as catalysts in the therapy process.

  • May help break the ice.

  • May reduce the initial resistance that might accompany therapy.

For Physical Health:

  • Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.

  • Reduces the number of medications some people need.

  • Breathing slows in those who are anxious.

  • Releases many hormones such as Phenylethylamine which has the same effect as chocolate.

  • Diminishes overall physical pain.

  • Relax more during exercise.

  • Participants were motivated, enjoyed the therapy sessions more, and felt the atmosphere of the session was less stressful during Animal-Assisted therapy.

For Children with Autism

  • Many children with autism feel a deep bond with animals and feel that they are able to relate better than humans.

  • Children with autism were engaged in significantly greater use of language as well as social interaction win their therapy sessions that incorporated animals compared to standard therapy sessions without them.

Of course, animal therapy isn’t for everyone. For more information, search the internet for Animal Therapy. You will find a plethora of information.

If you’re interested in animal-assisted treatment, you can talk with your existing therapist about the possibility of incorporating an animal into your treatment. Anyone considering animal therapy should discuss the process and how they may benefit from it with a doctor or mental health specialist.

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