What is animal-assisted therapy? How can it help with mental health? Has this animal-assisted treatment therapy helped people in different ways? How does animal-assisted theratment therapy affect the individual? Can this animal-assisted treatment really make an impact?
Animal Assisted Therapy has been helping people to overcome mental health issues such as depression and anxiety over the years. Animals help us to reconnect with our gentle and innocent side where we do not worry and overthink about our surroundings.
Did you know that some great leaders in history had a pet or two, which also happens 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. These are great examples of animal assisted therapy.
Unique Facts About Animal Assisted Therapy
This is the very reason why, at this time, this animal assisted therapy is practiced. 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 is a therapeutic tool that can be utilized in the counseling/psychotherapy process, providing social and emotional benefit to clients.” This animal assisted therapy can play a major role in an individual’s rehabilitation.
For Early Mental Health Professionals
Even before animal assisted therapy has been formally introduced in the 1960s, a few mental health professionals have already harnessed the power of animals to assist them heal their patients.
Sigmund Freud was a notable neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. He has assisted lots of mentally disturbed patients through his counseling sessions. But what enhanced these sessions is the presence of Jofi, his intelligent canine. In a way, Jofi comforted and relaxed his patients who made them respond to therapy better.
Animal Assistants Help Patients During Sessions
“Service animals are specially trained to assist with or perform tasks for people with disabilities,” says psychologist Aubrey Fine. “A psychiatric service dog, 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 from engaging in self-mutilation behavior, for example,” she adds.
When a counselor brings in an animal to a therapy session, he knows that he’s not the only one responsible for assisting their patient. He realizes that the animal assistant is an equal, beneficial animal assisted therapy, and not just there as a mere distraction for the patient.
Animal Assistants’ Needs
Animal assistants are meant to be treated fairly. It’s like bringing in another therapists to a therapy session. Hence, their needs must be met by the therapists for them to function well in helping the patient. The counselor is responsible for the animal’s needs, including:
- Regular water and food breaks
- Peeing and pooping breaks as needed
- Avoiding overstimulation to the animal
- Ensuring that the animal is comfortable throughout the session
Trained Pets Are More Effective To Aid People With Disabilities
Specialized animal-assisted therapy counselors often bring in their trained pets to traditional therapy sessions for people 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 grows into a mutually beneficial improvement of health and well-being. This bond 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 therapies within the comfort of your homes through online counseling such that of BetterHelp. These are very reliable ways to undergo therapy since professionals facilitate it. A lot of people have tried it, and there are numerous online reviews for you to check.
Animals who are trained, especially for animal-assisted therapy often work together with counselors during therapy sessions. Handlers of these animals are typically the therapists themselves. This creates a bond that makes them a better tag team during counseling sessions. They must not be confused with other kinds of service-oriented animals, such as:
Emotional support animals – Pets who have been trained to alleviate emotional 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.
Expressing Better With Therapy
Therapeutic and safe physical interaction with an animal assistant helps mentally challenged patients in expressing what they truly feel inside. They don’t even have to voice it out to their therapists during a therapy session.
Most Common Animal In Animal Assisted Therapy
No doubt about it. Our favorite canines are, indeed, man’s best friend. Dogs are the most utilized therapy 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.
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.
Horses can mirror a patient’s behavioral and emotional state, which is excellent for assessing the true feelings of a mentally problematic patient. They also quickly respond to nonverbal cues due to their innate observant nature.
Animal Assisted Therapy Training
“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, guinea pigs, and llamas are all considered animals fit for pet therapy. But counselors don’t pick a well-behaved animal then bring it right inside a therapy session. These animals need to be certified through an ethical training program. They must have core competencies to aid counselors in helping people.