Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of therapeutic intervention that involves animals as a part of the treatment process. AAT is designed to improve a person’s physical, social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. AAT typically involves interaction with animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, or even dolphins.
During AAT sessions, a trained therapist or handler will guide the interaction between the animal and the person receiving therapy. Depending on the person’s needs and goals, AAT sessions may include activities such as petting or grooming the animal, playing with the animal, or participating in animal-assisted activities such as horseback riding or swimming with dolphins.
AAT has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The benefits of AAT include decreased stress and anxiety, improved mood, increased socialization, and enhanced communication skills.
How Old is Animal Assisted Therapy?
The use of animals for therapeutic purposes has been documented throughout history in many cultures. For example, ancient Greeks used horses for therapeutic purposes, and the use of dogs for therapy dates back to the 18th century in England. However, the formal use of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a structured therapeutic intervention began to gain recognition in the mid-20th century.
One of the pioneers in the field of AAT was Dr. Boris Levinson, a child psychologist who observed the positive effects of his dog on his patients in the 1950s. Since then, AAT has evolved into a recognized and effective form of therapy, and it continues to be studied and refined by professionals in the field.
Animals Used for Animal-Assisted Therapy
There are a variety of animals that can be used for animal-assisted therapy (AAT), depending on the needs and preferences of the individual receiving therapy and the type of therapy being provided. Some of the most commonly used animals for AAT include:
- Dogs: Dogs are the most commonly used animal for AAT. They are social, trainable, and have a calming effect on people.
- Cats: Cats can be used for AAT in settings where dogs may not be practical or appropriate. Cats are known for their calming and soothing effect on people.
- Horses: Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) involves working with horses and can be particularly helpful for individuals with mental health conditions such as PTSD or anxiety.
- Birds: Birds such as parrots and canaries can be used for AAT. They are known for their calming effect and can be particularly helpful for individuals who may have difficulty interacting with larger animals.
- Rabbits: Rabbits can be used for AAT in settings where dogs or larger animals may not be appropriate. They are gentle, social animals that can provide comfort and companionship.
- Dolphins: Dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) involves working with dolphins and can be particularly helpful for individuals with disabilities or neurological conditions.
Overall, the choice of animal used for AAT will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the individual receiving therapy, as well as the expertise of the therapy provider.
Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Physical Health
In addition to the mental health benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), there are also several physical health benefits that have been observed, including:
- Lowered Blood Pressure: Interacting with animals has been shown to lower blood pressure, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with hypertension or other cardiovascular conditions.
- Reduced Pain: AAT has been shown to be effective in reducing pain levels, particularly in individuals with chronic pain conditions.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health: Regular interaction with animals has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, including reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Increased Physical Activity: Certain types of AAT, such as equine-assisted therapy or therapy involving dogs, can involve physical activity such as walking or riding, which can help to increase overall physical activity levels.
- Enhanced Motor Skills: Some types of AAT, such as therapy involving horses or dogs, can help to enhance motor skills and coordination.
- Improved Immune Function: Interacting with animals has been shown to improve immune function and reduce the risk of certain infections.
Overall, the physical health benefits of AAT can be a valuable addition to traditional forms of therapy and can help to improve overall health outcomes for a wide range of individuals.
Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to have several benefits for mental health, including:
- Reducing Anxiety and Stress: Studies have shown that interacting with animals can help to reduce levels of anxiety and stress. AAT can lower cortisol levels and increase levels of oxytocin and endorphins, which are associated with feelings of calm and happiness.
- Improving Mood: AAT has been shown to be effective in improving mood, reducing symptoms of depression, and increasing feelings of happiness and well-being.
- Enhancing Socialization: AAT can help to increase social interaction and improve social skills. It can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with social anxiety or have difficulty forming relationships with others.
- Boosting Self-Esteem: Interacting with animals can also help to boost self-esteem and increase feelings of self-worth. It can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem.
- Increasing Motivation: AAT can help to increase motivation and engagement in therapy. For example, working with a therapy dog may encourage a person to participate more actively in therapy sessions and to work towards their goals.
- Providing a Sense of Comfort: Animals can provide a sense of comfort and companionship, particularly for individuals who may feel isolated or alone. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are undergoing a difficult period in their lives or who are coping with a mental health condition.
Overall, AAT can be a valuable addition to traditional forms of therapy and can help to improve mental health outcomes for a wide range of individuals.
Read more blogs about health.