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. Research suggests that animals can be beneficial to humans in a number of areas such as: physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing. 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.
What is Animal Assisted Therapy?
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.
AAT 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.
AAT 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
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.