Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)
The formal definition of animal-assisted therapy:
"AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession.
AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning [cognitive functioning refers to thinking and intellectual skills]. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is documented and evaluated." (From Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy)
Benefits of Animal-Assisted Activities/Therapy
Human-animal interactions may provide the following benefits to adults and children in a variety of human care facilities:
Studies report that children who live in homes in which a pet is considered a member of the family are more empathetic than children in homes without pets. Children see animals as peers.
It is easier to teach children to be empathetic with an animal than with a human. With animals, what you see is what you get. Humans are not as direct. Children can be taught to read an animal's body language. Understanding what an animal is feeling is easier than determining what a person is feeling because the animal is straightforward and lives in the moment. As children get older, their ability to empathize with animals will carry over into their experiences with people.
Individuals who have mental illness or low self-esteem focus on themselves; animals can help them focus on their environment.
Rather than thinking and talking about themselves and their problems, they watch and talk to and about the animals.
Nurturing skills are learned. By being taught to take care of an animal, the children can develop these skills.
Psychologically, when a person nurtures, his/her need to be nurtured is being fulfilled.
Animals can open a channel of emotionally safe, non-threatening communication between client and therapist. In therapy settings,animals help present an air of emotional safety. If a therapist has an animal in his/her office, s/he "can't be all bad." The animal's presence may open a path through the person's initial resistance. Children are especially likely to project their feelings and experiences onto an animal.
Animals have a way of accepting without qualification. They don't care how a person looks or what they say. An
animal's acceptance is nonjudgmental, forgiving, and uncomplicated by the psychological games people often play.
Studies have shown that when dogs and cats come to visit a care facility, there is more laughter and interaction among residents than during any other "therapy" or entertainment time.
Mental stimulation occurs because increased communication with other people, recalled memories, and the entertainment provided by the animals. In situations that are depressing, the presence of the animals serves to brighten the atmosphere, increasing amusement, laughter, and play. These positive distractions may help to decrease people's feelings of isolation or alienation.
Much has been written about the correlation between touch and health. Infants who are not touched do not develop healthy relationships with other people and often fail to thrive and grow physically. For some people, touch from another person is not acceptable, but the warm, furry touch of a dog or cat is. The touch of an animal is safe, non-threatening, and pleasant.
Many people are able to relax when animals are present. Tests have shown that the decrease in heart rate and blood pressure can be dramatic. Even watching fish swim in an aquarium can be very calming.
When they are with animals, some people feel spiritual fulfillment or a sense of oneness with life and nature.
This is hard to define or explain. Some well-known authors have described their relationships with animals and nature as part of their sustaining life energy and/or part of their communion and relationship with God. Albert Schweitzer, George W. Carver, and J. Allen Boone (author of Kinship with All Life), among others, express this "something more" in their writing and work.
*Adapted from the Pet partners website.
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Animal Assisted Therapy is offered by Tiffany Cross in Gulf Breeze