Animal Assisted Therapy

There is something healing about having an animal around, isn’t there? Having a pet companion has even been proven to help people’s overall well-being. Whether a person is suffering from PTSD or other disorders, having an animal companion has proven to be beneficial to a person’s overall health. So what is animal-assisted therapy? Today, we’re going to go over what animal-assisted therapy is and how it can help people 

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a therapy that helps improve a person’s emotional, mental, social, and physical functions with the help of animals. However, depending on the needs of the person, there are different types of animals used in this kind of therapy. Among the most popular of which are dogs and horses, but it could really be any kind of domesticated animal. Some people may even use rabbits, llamas, birds, and cats. 

Animal-assisted therapy can take place in different settings too. It could be inside hospitals, prisons, homes for teenagers, nursing homes and even mental health facilities. This kind of therapy can take place individually or in groups. It is usually led by a qualified or professional therapist who has trained with them and specializes in this kind of field. 

During this therapy, patients simply spend time with an animal to achieve specific therapeutic goals or outcomes. This may involve experiences like walking, petting, brushing and even care for an animal. 

When is it Used?

This kind of therapy is usually given as an intervention for people or individuals with certain disorders that can range from physiological to psychological. An analysis of 49 studies showed that animal-assisted therapy has very positive outcomes and can help improve the overall emotional well-being of an adult and child with autism. It also helps in improving medical conditions as well as behavioral issues of patients. Patients who suffer from illnesses like schizophrenia, depression, and even addiction have also improved when they are paired with a furry companion. However, not everyone is a candidate for animal-assisted therapy. People who are fearful of animals, dislike them, or are allergic to any are often recommended to different forms of therapy

What Should You Expect During This Therapy?

The kind of animal involved may depend on what a person is going to therapy for. If it is for depression or anxiety and the person needs a pet that can cam them down, a rabbit or bird might not be the ideal choice. Rather, they would choose a pet like a dog or a cat to provide them with emotional support. The condition a person is dealing with will also determine if an animal should be used only during clinical visits or should be at the person’s side as an emotional support pet. For someone who takes the pet with them, they’ll also need to learn to take care of it. Some pets are much larger than others and demand much more attention (ex. horses.). If a person feels as though the animal is not fulfilling their emotional therapeutic needs, they are encouraged to talk to their therapist and discuss what type of companion might suit their needs. 

How Animal Assisted Therapy Works

Animals can provide patients with a sense of comfort and calmness. Some even feel safe and at ease when they are with their support animal. Support animals can also help divert a person’s attention away from any kind of stressful situation. This way, a person can focus on what makes them happy and relaxed, avoiding any sort of unnecessary stress in life. Advocates for animal-assisted therapy also say they were able to develop a better sense of self-worth, trust in others, communication skills, and coping mechanisms. 

Conditions Where Animal-Assisted Therapy Can Help

There are plenty of conditions where animal-assisted therapy can help. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Addiction
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia
  • Developmental disorders
  • Emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Heart problems and diseases
  • Psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia

What to Check For When Interested In This Therapy

Most of the time, animal-assisted therapies are done by licensed psychotherapists, social workers, or mental health care providers. The most popular animal used in this kind of therapy is dogs. Service dogs can be dogs from animal shelters or can be bought from breeders. They undergo training in order to become certified service dogs for emotional support. In many cases, a written prescription or letter from a medical doctor or psychotherapist will certify or register your very own support animal. A person can also get their own dog and put it through training and certification for assistance. Assistance Dogs International can help with more information on certified service dogs.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy

If you are a recovering addict or someone who is trying to stay sober, having an animal companion could be very helpful. There is a strong bond between pets and people so its easy to see why animal-assisted therapy can help a person with a disorder such as addiction (or any disorder for that matter). That being said, there are a lot of benefits to having animal-assisted therapy. Here are a few:

  • It helps improve motor skills and balance.
  • Improves your attention and focus.
  • It helps your ability to care for yourself and at the same time increase your self-worth.
  • Reduces the sense of isolation, grief and anxiety.
  • It improves the willingness to be in a therapeutic program or activity.
  • Fights depression.
  • Reduces the risk of having increased blood pressure.
  • Reduces the risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
  • It improves self-control and increases empathy.
  • It improves trust and communication skills.
  • Improves your social skills in general.

Animals have a way of healing people; they love you unconditionally, they don’t judge how you look or how much money you have in your bank account. They will protect you and give you their loyalty no matter what. So if you are suffering from trauma, pain, or addiction, animal-assisted therapy could help you. Make sure to check in with a trained professional or doctor to see if this kind of therapy is right for you. Not all illnesses or conditions can be cured by medication. Sometimes, all you need is a furry companion to get you through it all.