What Is Animal Assisted Therapy

Do you like the company of pets? Ever felt comforted by a pet at home? They call this animal assisted therapy. Has this type of counseling helped people in different ways? How do pet interactions facilitate therapy, improve interpersonal relationships and social interactions, increase self-esteem, and lessen anxiety ratings? Let’s talk and learn more about healing through a therapy animal on this topic of animal assisted therapy.

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) For Behavioral Therapy Intervention – Unique Facts

How can animal assisted therapy help with mental health?  How does animal-assisted therapy affect the individual? Can animal assisted therapy really provide emotional support and yield physiological benefits? What is the effectiveness of using service dogs and other animals in the hospital setting or nursing home? Does animal assisted therapy work well with complementary therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is one of the complementary therapies that has been helping people to overcome mental health issues such as depression and anxiety over the years. Animal assisted therapy helps us to reconnect with our gentle and innocent side where we do not worry and overthink our surroundings – we only focus on making a bond with the therapy dog, cat, or any other type of animal or chosen pet and throughout the animal assisted therapy sessions, achieve healing and reap its positive long-term effects.

Additionally, this treatment plan is a therapeutic intervention that involves using a trained animal, such as therapy dogs, therapy cats, or therapy horses to help improve physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. It can help people who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for example. Randomized controlled trials have shown that animal-assisted therapies can be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. A systematic review of studies on animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has shown it can improve the quality of life for individuals with the disease, reduce their agitation, and increase their social interaction.

Did you know that some great leaders in history had pet partners or dogs, which also happen to be their pseudo-psychologists? President Andrew Jackson, even a famous war hero, had an obnoxious pet parrot that he loved dearly. As for President George Washington, he had so many dogs. He had French and English foxhounds – which for him were brilliant beings. Even Queen Victoria was an animal lover. She had a Pekingese, which was a gift to her. So, you see, pets are essential as it brings a sense of calm and relaxation even to the busiest of people.

This is the very reason why, at this time, this therapy program is practiced for mental health care. Here’s a list of 8 unique facts you’d love to know about animal-assisted therapy.

According to Maureen Huang, MSW, AASW, “Animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy is a therapeutic tool that can be utilized in the counseling/psychotherapy process, providing socialization skills and emotional support to clients.” This can play a major role in an individual’s rehabilitation.

Also known as pet therapy, AA therapy is a form of medicine that has been gaining popularity in recent years. A meta-analysis of headache reports found that animal-assisted therapy was effective in reducing the severity and frequency of headaches in patients. In addition to medical facilities, pet therapy is also being used in other facilities, such as nursing homes and schools, to improve the well-being of individuals.

Even before animal therapy programs have been formally introduced in the 1960s, a few mental health therapists have already harnessed the power of animals to help them to heal their patients.

Sigmund Freud was a notable neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. He has helped lots of mentally disturbed patients through his counseling sessions. But what enhanced these sessions was the presence of Jofi, his intelligent canine. In a way, Jofi comforted and relaxed his patients which made them respond to treatment better.

Helping Patients During Treatment

“Service animals are specially trained to assist with or perform physical activity for people with disabilities,” says psychologist Aubrey Fine. “Psychiatric service dogs, for example, might be specially trained to remind someone to take his or her psychiatric medication, check a room and turn on the lights for someone with anxiety or stop someone with behavioral problems from engaging in self-mutilation behavior, for example,” she adds.

When a therapist brings therapy animals to a treatment session, he knows that he’s not the only one responsible for helping the patient. He realizes that the therapy animal is equal, beneficial treatment, gives social support (especially in a nursing home), and is not just there as a mere distraction for the patient.

Equine-assisted therapy or dolphin-assisted therapy is meant to be treated fairly. It’s like bringing in another counselor to an animal-assisted counseling session. Hence, their needs must be met by the counselors for them to function well in helping hospitalized psychiatric patients. A counselor is responsible for the animal’s needs, including:

  • Regular water and food breaks
  • Peeing and pooping breaks as needed
  • Avoiding overstimulation of the animal
  • Ensuring that the animal is comfortable throughout the session

Trained Pets Are More Effective In Aiding People With Disabilities

Specialized counselors often bring in their trained pets (it could be a cat or a dog) to traditional treatment sessions for children and adults with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They know that this so-called human-animal bond helps strengthen the mental health of these individuals.

The human-animal bond is a relationship that stems and forms a mutually beneficial improvement of health and well-being. The treatment starts during the initial interaction between humans and animals and gradually intensifies as they get together for more extended periods.

Meanwhile, you can now have types of therapy like this within the comfort of your home through online counseling such as BetterHelp. These are very reliable ways to undergo treatment since professionals facilitate it. A lot of people have tried it, and there are numerous online reviews for you to check.

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Animals who are trained, especially for animal-assisted therapy often work together with counselors during treatment sessions. Handlers of these animals are typically the counselors themselves. This creates a bond that makes them a better tag team during counseling sessions.

Animal therapy or pet therapy must not be confused with other kinds of service-oriented pets, such as:

Emotional support animals – Pets who have been trained to alleviate emotional and current pain from humans. Without these animals, an emotionally conflicted individual may easily break down mentally.

Service animals – Pets who are uniquely trained to help persons with disabilities. They perform tasks such as opening doors, pressing elevator buttons, and guiding physically disabled people.

Helping People Through Treatments

Therapeutic activities and safe physical interaction with an animal assistant help mentally challenged patients in expressing what they truly feel inside. They don’t even have to voice it out to their counselor during a treatment session.


No doubt about it. Our favorite canines are, indeed, man’s best friend, the best animal or pet. Dogs are the most utilized animals not only because they are widespread pets. Research has proven that dogs can pick up human emotions quickly and find ways to work around them to make the human feel better in an instant. No wonder two of the great leaders mentioned above had lots of dogs.

an animal horse getting a good kiss after a session
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This might be a little unusual, and many might not believe it, but horses are next to dogs in providing care and comfort to distressed humans.

The horse is an animal that can mirror a patient’s behavioral and emotional state, which is excellent for assessing the true feelings of a mentally problematic patient; thus, great for therapy. They also quickly respond to nonverbal cues due to their innate observant nature.

Expert Opinions On Animal Assisted Therapy

“In my clinical practice as a professional counselor, I have worked with a dog, a rabbit, and horses and I’ve noticed benefits–especially anxiety reduction and relationship enhancement–when working with all three species,” says Leslie Stewart, Ph.D., LPC.

Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and llamas are all considered animals fit for pet treatment. But counselors don’t pick a well-behaved animal and then bring it right inside the hospital or a treatment session. These animals involved need to be certified through an ethical training program. They must have core competencies to aid counselors in helping people.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Type Of Treatment With Some Pets’ Help

  1. What Is The Goal Of Counseling With Pets?

  2. What Types Of Things Might An Pet Therapy Team Do?

  3. How Does Pet Therapy Relate To Psychology?

  4. What Kind Of Animals Can Be Used Here?

  5. When Was This First Used?

  6. What is the difference between animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities?
  7. What are the different types of animal therapy?
  8. What type of therapy is animal therapy?
  9. How common is animal-assisted therapy?
  10. What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in mental health?
  11. Is animal-assisted therapy ethical?
  12. What are the risks of animal-assisted therapy?
  13. What is the best animal to help with anxiety?
  14. What animal can help with panic attacks?
  15. Why doesn’t animal-assisted therapy work?

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