Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Definition

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is bringing live animals, primarily dogs and horses, to bring comfort and new experiences to group and individual counseling patients. AAT is used for many different therapeutic purposes, including the development of social skills like assertion training and the management of depression, anxiety and stress.

Many animal-assisted therapy programs also involve human-to-human contact that allows patients to connect with each other while they work with the animals through handling, grooming, and feeding sessions. The positive emotions resulting from working with the animals helps patients feel more safe and secure so they are able to share their thoughts and feelings with their therapist.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Is Also Referred as:

  • Equine-assisted psychotherapy
  • Pet therapy

Key Things to Know About AAT

  • Animals can provide comfort and reduce anxiety for children and adults.
  • Animal-assisted therapy dates back to the late 1800s.
  • Many studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy eases anxiety and fear, improves self-esteem and is a safe, effective option for helping people with disabilities and special needs.
  • Studies show that petting a dog can lower blood pressure and decrease stress levels.
  • AAT isn’t only helpful for children. Many adults find animals to help them relax and distract them from difficult emotions, allowing them to open up more in therapy.
  • AAT isn’t about playing with an animal while in therapy. Typically, the pet in therapy is very well-trained and calm. It is important that the animal remains calm during a therapy session to promote a healthy therapeutic environment.

More Resources:

See an example of an Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy program here (Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch).



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