The wonders of animal-assisted therapy: a closer look

FFranklin December 8, 2023 7:02 AM

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as dogs and cats, into the treatment plan. It's used to enhance and complement the benefits of traditional therapy. AAT is known to bring joy and comfort to people, especially those with depression, anxiety, dementia, and other mental health issues. Let's take a closer look at this fascinating world of healing with the help of our furry, feathered, and even finned friends.

What is animal-assisted therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient's social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Animal-assisted therapy is used in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and mental health institutions.

Animals most commonly used in AAT include:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Horses (equine-assisted therapy)
  • Dolphins (dolphin-assisted therapy)

How does animal-assisted therapy work?

The process of animal-assisted therapy often involves trained therapy animals working with a certified handler. These animals help patients reach specific physical, social, cognitive, and emotional goals. For example, a therapist might use a dog to help a child with autism learn social skills, or a cat to provide comfort to a patient with depression.

Research has shown that interaction with animals can decrease stress and improve mood, which can be particularly beneficial for patients suffering from mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Benefits of animal-assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy comes with a myriad of benefits. These include:

  • Improved mood and reduced anxiety: Interaction with animals has been shown to increase levels of the hormone oxytocin, which helps promote feelings of happiness and relaxation.

  • Enhanced social skills: Animal-assisted therapy helps improve social interactions and relationships, as animals can serve as a bridge to more comfortable social interaction for individuals who have difficulty connecting with others.

  • Increased empathy and nurturing skills: Taking care of an animal can help individuals develop more empathetic behavior and nurturing skills.

  • Decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness: Animals provide companionship, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Petting an animal can help lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Types of animal-assisted therapy

There are several types of animal-assisted therapy, including:

  1. Dog-assisted therapy: Dogs are the most common animals used in therapy because of their widely varied breeds, sizes, and temperaments. They typically assist in physical and occupational therapy.

  2. Cat-assisted therapy: Cats are often used with patients who have a fear of dogs or are in places where dogs are not allowed.

  3. Equine-assisted therapy: Horses are used in a variety of therapeutic settings due to their sensitivity to human emotion.

  4. Dolphin-assisted therapy: Dolphins are used in therapy due to their intelligence and perceived empathetic nature. However, this form of therapy has been met with controversy due to concerns about animal welfare.

Animal-assisted therapy is a wonderful tool that can complement traditional therapy methods and bring comfort and joy to those in need. It emphasizes the bond between animals and humans, proving that sometimes, the best therapy comes with four legs, fins, or feathers.

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