One of the areas of animal assisted therapy (AAT) in which there is considerable research is around anxiety.
Have you ever had a bad day, and just wanted to snuggle with your pet when you get home? Maybe you’re too grumpy to talk to your family or friends, but taking the dog for a walk or cuddling with the cat are just what you need to make you feel better.
Children who are anxious when reading/learning to read may benefit from animal-assisted reading!
Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence both point to the fact that petting an animal, or even spending time with one, can reduce a person’s anxiety.
A paper published in 1999 in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry found that ‘pet-facilitated therapy’ helped alleviate anxiety in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. A previous study found that AAT sessions decreased anxiety in patients with psychotic disorders, modd disorders and other disorders.
Anxiety is often a concern in therapeutic settings, even when it is not the main focus of the therapy. Anxiety can arise from being in a new setting, such as a hospital or treatment centre, from meeting new people, such as therapists and staff.
Anxiety may also be the main focus of a therapy session. A client may have goals such as reducing irrational thoughts which trigger anxiety, or perhaps reducing avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations. For many clients, AAT can be an effective method to help work towards these goals. For example, a conversation may evolve around a dog’s unreasonable fears (such as thunder, the vaccum cleaner). A client could discuss why the dog shouldn’t be anxious about thunder, and then transfer similar thinking to their own situation.
In what other ways could AAT be used to treat anxiety? Please add your comments!
Greenwald, Alisa J. (2001). The Effects of a Therapeutic Horsemanship Program on Emotionally Disturbed Boys. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering,62(2-B): 1078.
Altschuler, Eric Lewin. (1999). Pet-Facilitated Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Annals of Clinnical Psychiatry, 11(1): 29-30.
Barker, S.B., & Dawson, K.S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety
ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric Services, 49(6), 797-801.
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There are lots of questions floating around about what types of animals are used in AAT, and what type of animal is “best”. The truth is that many types of animals can be used in AAT, and a well-qualified therapist will be able to direct the session, while encompassing the animal’s behaviour, to best benefit the client.
While there is no best animal for use in AAT, different species bring different strengths, and even each individual animal finds things they are good at and things they don’t like to do. For example, some dogs may excel in group therapy, as they are happy to interact with multiple people at once.
One of Chimo’s certified therapy dogs, Flash, is always happy to play “group fetch”, where he brings the toy back to a different person each time! He wants everyone to be included in the game. In contrast, some dogs will get overwhelmed in a group situation, and they prefer to sit and cuddle with one person.
Here are a few characteristics of a few different species of animals, which may help to guide your choice of what animal to consider working with in AAT sessions.
- most common in urban settings, and easy to bring into offices, hospitals, etc.
- Provide unconditional love
- Can be used passively, such as petting the dog, or actively such as walking the dog or having it do tricks
- many people have past experiences with dogs, providing a starting point for a conversation about their past
- can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
- can be used to comfort clients
- work on fine motor skills through petting and brushing and
- are not as intimidating to some clients as dogs
- Motivators to participate
- can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
- Excellent mirrors for client behavior
- Can be used for both physical and psychological/emotional therapy
Small animals, such as guinea pigs and rabbits often have a place in classroom settings as they are easy to manage. Teachers can focus on teaching empathy, calm behaviour (so as not to scare the animal), animal care skills, and even involve the animal in lessons throughout the curriculum. Turning math problems into figuring out how much food the rabbit needs, for example, can motivate students to take an interest in math.
As we can see, many species and many individual animals are appropriate for use in AAT. They will all bring their own specialities to the therapy session, and a therapist must get to know the animals they are working with.
What types of animals have you worked with? Did you need to make special considerations for their species?
This week marks National Volunteer Appreciation Week. Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy has many wonderful volunteers, and they are the lifeline of our organization.
Our volunteers are a diverse bunch. Some of our volunteers are retired; some are in high school. Our volunteers are men and women, some volunteers grew up in Edmonton and some are new to the city. Some volunteers like to play fetch, and others like to be scratched behind the ears. Some volunteers turn around three times before lying down, and some take care to lick themselves clean before going to their volunteer placement.
Our volunteer teams consist of a dog or cat and their owner. It is a special partnership, and for an hour every week, when volunteering, this partnership opens up to be shared with many other friends.
I come across many quotes about volunteers and about animals while working. People send them to me, I look them up, and collect the ones I really like. Here are ten quotes that I feel describe our volunteers, and the joys they bring to those they visit for animal assisted therapy sessions. I enjoyed putting them together, and I hope you enjoy reading them. Please add your own favorite quotes in the comments section!
Quotes about volunteering, about animals
You may not have saved a lot of money in your life, but if you have saved a lot of heartaches for other folks, you are a pretty rich man. ~Seth Parker
The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. – Samuel Butler, Higgledy-Piggledy
The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers. ~Terri Guillemets
No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another. Thank you. ~Author Unknown
One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind. ~Malayan Proverb
They never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the conversation. – Jerome K. Jerome
It’s funny how dogs and cats know the inside of folks better than other folks do. – Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna
One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you’re feeling blue is that he doesn’t try to find out why. – Unknown Author
Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell. – Emily Dickenson
“A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, big or small, young or old. He doesn’t care if you’re not smart, not popular, not a good joke-teller, not the best athlete, nor the best-looking person. To your dog, you are the greatest, the smartest, the nicest human being who was ever born. You are his friend and protector.” – Louis Sabin
Thank-you to all Chimo volunteers! Don’t forget to comment below and add your favorite quotes.
Thanks to all our volunteers who came out to help! It was great meeting people who stopped by the booth and sharing our stories.
Chimo AAT is thrilled to have been asked to participate, once again, in the Mental Health Awareness Week Booth Fair at the University of Alberta. Mental Health Awareness Week is put on by a group called Medical Students for Mental Health Awareness.
The booth fair will take place this Thursday, March 31, from 10:00-1:00 in the Katz building. Several of our volunteers and their therapy dogs will be there, visiting with the public and answering questions about their volunteer placements. I (Daniella San Martin-Feeney, Program Coordinator) will be there as well to answer questions about animal assisted therapy.
This has been such a fun event in the past, I’m really looking forward to it again this year. Please come stop by and visit, and find out a bit more about Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy.
Check out this beautiful video about a dog who didn’t make it as a service dog, but who was still able to help and inspire millions. Warning: this video was a serious tear-jerker for me!
Editors Note: This was taken from an email I received from a Chimo volunteer. I thought it really spoke to the human-animal bond that so many of us are lucky enough to experience. According to the email, it was written by S.G. Thomas.
I Rescued A Human Today
I rescued a human today.
As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didn’t want her to know that I hadn’t been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn’t want her to think poorly of them.
As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn’t feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone’s life. She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me.
I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to touch and comfort her.
Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.
Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who haven’t walked the corridors. So many more to be saved, but at least today…….I could save one.
I rescued a human today.
Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinmiller/741492505/
Many people wonder about the differences and similarities between Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Pet Visitation. And what about Pet Therapy? Animal Assisted Activities? Is that the same thing? Let’s clear up some of the commonly used terminology…
Pet Therapy is usually used as the overarching term, and emcompasses pet visitation, AAT, and Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). So the term pet therapy is quite general.
Pet visitation is essentially what it sounds like. Pets visiting with clients. It is known that some therapeutic benefits will be attained, however there is no specific therapeutic goal for the interactions. The sessions are generally not structured, and not led by a professional with specific training in AAT/AAA. Client progress is not tracked, however it is often noted to be beneficial.
Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) are activities which have therapeutic results, however the goals of the sessions are educational or recreational. Animals are used to help with educational goals and motivation.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a clinical interaction which is goal-directed, led by a professional with training in AAT, working within the scope of their profession. The animal used meets specific criteria and is an integral part of the treatment process. In addition, sessions are documented and evaluated, allowing therapists to assess the effectiveness of various approaches and document client progression towards their goals.
Yes, many pets do need help. They need rescuing from the side of the road, from the shelter where they were dropped off, from their past as an abused animal. And thousands of pets are adopted into better situations. Today, I urge you to think about what your rescued pet has done, or will do for you and other humans in return.
Perhaps your pet has given you someone to come home to. Maybe you already had someone to come home to, but now you have a four-legged, tail-wagging, slobbering, wriggling mass of love who mobs you as soon as you come through the door. Someone who is so overjoyed to see you each and every time you come home that they make sure you know that you are the centre of someone else’s universe.
Perhaps your pet has given you a reason to leave home. Not just to go get groceries but to walk around your neighbourhood because your neighbourhood is the most exciting, dynamic place out there! Everyone you pass on the sidewalk is someone who needs to be greeted and every new sight and smell needs to be taken in. Perhaps your pet has taught you to connect with your neighbourhood, and that to walk with a friend until you are both tired out is the best way to spend a morning. Or afternoon. Or evening. (Most dogs I know aren’t picky about WHEN they go for a walk, just as long as they get to go!).
Perhaps your pet has taught you about yourself. Maybe you’ve watched them react to your moods and realized that you’re in a bad mood at certain times of day. Maybe you’ve watched them react as you interact with another family member, and you’ve realized that you’ve spoken more harshly that intended. Pet’s often react to emotions that we don’t even realize we have.
Think about what you have been given by y our pet. Consider sharing this with someone else by introducing your pet to new people, or by introducing people to the idea of adopting a pet.
As you think about what you can do for an animal in need, think also about what an animal can do for you.
Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt
As we enter the new year, I thought that we’d go back to the basics. Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy has always been focused on working in mental health. Some people mistakenly think that this means that all our clients have a diagnosed mental illness.
A great resource which discusses the differences between mental health and mental illness can be found at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Their website says that “Mental health involves finding balance in all aspects of your life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is the ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges you face everyday – whether that involves making choices and decisions, adapting to and coping in difficult situations, or talking about your needs and desires.“ So mental health is a term which applies to everyone at all times.
In regards to mental illness: “Mental illness is the term used to refer to mental health problems that are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals.“ Bipolar disorder and depression are two examples of mental illness.
I would recommend checking out this website to learn more: http://www.camh.net/education/Resources_teachers_schools/Drug_Curriculum/Grades_11-12_Mental_Health/curriculum_mh_gr11to12bckgrnd.html
To bring AAT back into the picture, we can say that AAT may be of benefits to a client’s mental health. Some clients may have a mental illness, and some may not.
Everyone can benefit from improving their mental health!
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