What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?
Animal-assisted therapy has been defined as a “goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of his/her profession” (Delta Society, 2000).
Meet Luke, a 6 year veteran of AAT. He has worked in an elementary school serving as a co-therapist helping children with behavior problems, lowering anxiety, and increasing self-esteem. Children learn the concepts of rewards and consequences from training Luke as well as how certain behavior modifications can make life better for everyone.
This co-therapist has great success in helping people with communication (tone of voice, assertiveness, and body language) while the client commands Luke to perform his many tricks. Through these exercises Luke and Penny, the human therapist, are able to restore a sense power and control that are often lost when someone has experienced trauma, grief, or loss.
Luke and his handler Penny passed an evaluation to be a registered Animal Assisted Therapy team with PetPartners formley Delta Society.. http://www.petpartners.org/
Here are some examples of goal directed interventions using Animal Assisted Therapy.
- To provide physiological relief from academic and personal stress, as evidenced in decreased heart rates and blood pressure and anxiety.
- To assist in the establishment of therapeutic rapport between the client and therapist or between group members if used in a group setting. AAI can provide an emotionally safe, non-threatening mode of communication in the initial therapy sessions.
- To encourage clients who have low self-esteem, confidence and social skills to have a safe outlet for the provision of an outward focus—rather than focusing solely on themselves and their failings in the therapeutic hour.
- Clients who have histories of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect might bond more readily and easily with an animal initially as well as have the opportunity to experience unconditional acceptance.
- To provide an opportunity for physical contact and touch with another being where the touch is safe, non-threatening and soothing when a client is emotionally distraught.
- To decrease feelings of isolation and alienation.
- To provide a safe, temporary diversion when dealing with emotionally intense issues.
- For clients who have witnessed the abuse of animals (which is not uncommon in abusive and violent homes) or possibly for those who have abused an animal, to have a supervised opportunity to learn empathy for another being, provide nurturance to the animal or have an opportunity to discuss the past abuse as it relates to their current functioning. Additionally, if a client experienced the trauma of witnessing the abuse of an animal, the presence of an animal in itself, can provide an opportunity for healing interactions.