WHY ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY?
There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face – BERN WILLIAMS
I believe that both children and adults can highly benefit from having contact with animals through Animal Assisted Therapy. Research suggests that animals can be beneficial to humans in a number of areas such as: physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing. Moreover, animals are known to be loving and non-judgmental, and I believe that their unconditional positive regard is what makes them so special, as this leaves a person feeling loved and important. This definitely resonates well with my experience, since I consider Lola as part of my family. After my own experience with Lola, I decided to learn more about how animals can have a positive effect on people, most especially in a therapeutic session. This led me to focus my dissertation on exploring the role of Animal Assisted Therapy in the counselling setting:
Dr. Fluffy: Friend, Foe or Something more? The implications of Animal-Assisted Therapy in the Counselling Setting
SO WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) refers to a type of treatment where the presence of an animal is essential during therapy. Its main goal is to provide a therapeutic environment where the therapist, client and animal interact in one space.
In this setting, the therapy animal acts as a co-therapist and becomes a vital tool in order to help the client develop further in areas such as mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. More often than not, animals serve as a safe haven, who promote trust and security. This helps clients to discuss sensitive issues more freely.
A therapy dog may be the first creature who has listened and responded to a child with such enthusiasm and compassion. This can result in the child feeling heard and important – Pichot (2007)
Furthermore, bonding with an animal can enhance your sense of self-worth and trust. It also helps with stabilizing your emotions and improving your social and communication skills. In fact, research suggests that the simple presence of an animal seems to benefit people, as animals tend to make people smile and laugh more and spending some time with them , as little as 15 minutes, can help boost your serotonin levels and lift your mood.
ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY AND CHILDREN
Studies have found that animals can promote healthy development in children. Having a companion animal usually helps children to:
- Be responsible
- Learn nurturing skills
- Develop self-esteem
- Develop empathy and autonomy
- Learn how to empathise with others
Examples of how therapy animals can help in a therapeutic setting:
- Through gently petting a therapy animal, a child can learn what is meant by appropriate touch.
- Therapy animals also help with reducing anxiety and loneliness, as well as, develop a number of skills (such as teaching the therapy animal a new trick, which as a result leaves the child feeling competent).
- Therapy animals can act as a link/connection between the child and the counsellor, serving as a transitional object for the child.
- Children may be more comfortable transferring their feelings onto the animal, rather than directly talking to the therapist. Thus, indirect interviewing through a therapy animal can be a convenient method to do this. For ex: “Lola wants to know what your favourite colour is”.
- Promoting projection and identification of the child’s feelings through storytelling with the therapy animal can be very beneficial for the therapeutic process.
ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY AND ADULTS
- Therapy animals offer healing nurturance and affection through physical contact. When petting an animal, the ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, is released in the body.
- Holding and petting an animal may soothe clients and help them feel calm when exploring difficult emotions in treatment that might be overwhelming without this valuable therapeutic touch
- Improve concentration and attention
- Improve social skills
- Improve ability to trust
- Improve ability to express feelings
- Reduce general anxiety
- Ease stress
- Therapy animals have a calming effect
- Therapy animals can lighten moods and lead to smiling and laughter
MY THERAPY DOG – LOLA PEACH
Undoubtedly, Lola is an integral part of my life as she offers me consistent love and support.
Consequently, I have always viewed Lola as having therapeutic qualities as she can sense when I am down and adapts her behaviour accordingly, offering a helping paw. Moreover, she is very outgoing and loves petting and cuddles, so it is no wonder to me that when I look into her big brown eyes, all I can see is a place that feels like home. I feel that her calm and friendly disposition can help clients to feel safer, loved and more at ease during a therapeutic session.
• Self referral to counselling, just book an appointment online or over the telephone
• Online Counselling also available
• Free initial telephone consultation
• Flexible appointments at a time that’s convenient for you
• Safe, welcoming environment
• Tailored therapeutic plan
GET IN TOUCH
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