Animal therapy is built on a concept called the human-animal bond, which defines people’s desire to interact with and relate to animals. For a large number of people, through interacting with a friendly animal, they can develop a bond with them. This bond can induce a calming state in the person.
What to expect?
The bond helps the person in several ways, like: reduction in boredom, increasing movement and activity, providing a companionship and decreasing loneliness, increasing social interactions thus resulting in general well-being.
How does it work?
Animal therapy can and does have several goals, which will determine how it works. The type of therapy and target for this therapy usually changes depending on the condition and the type of support a person needs. Some examples are: providing comfort by reducing levels of pain, improving movement and motor skills, developing social and/or behavioral skills, increasing motivation toward activities like exercise or interacting with others.
The process of animal therapy typically involves an animal’s handler, who is generally the owner, bringing the animal to each session. The handler will work under a therapist’s guidance to help the person achieve the goals of the therapy. A number of organizations train handlers and corresponds them to healthcare providers. Many handlers also work as volunteers. Before getting approval for therapeutic use, both the animal and the handler has to go through various certifications with these groups and organizations. The handler must generally posses an instructional course on how to interact with people and perform the types of therapies that they may have to provide.
The animal also has to undergo certain checks. These usually includes checking immunization records and performing physical exams to ensure that the animal is generally healthy and free of disease. They will also have to undergo temperament testing to make sure that they behave at par with both the handler and other people. Additionally, the pair has to undergo obedience training. This rigorous testing and certification ensures the safety and professionalism of all people involved, helping the person access to the best therapy sessions possible Here it should be noted that a therapy dog is not the same as a service dog and does not have all of the same rights. For example, a therapy dog cannot accompany its handler into a business establishment.
Who might benefit?
Animal therapy may help people with wide range of health issues. Organization noted that these therapies improve health by decreasing stress and disorder by: decreasing anxiety, increasing feelings of social support, declining perceptions of pain, providing motivation, stimulation, and focus. Evidence for animal assisted therapy shows strongest for markers of anxiety and depression in the widest range of people. Researchers have noted that the therapy may be beneficial for people from different age groups with various psychological and physical conditions. For example, a study conducted on 2019 found that use of therapy dogs improved the efficacy of mental health treatments among adolescents. Together, these factors is predicted to make the therapy helpful for aspects of conditions such as: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia, depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Studies that involved the use of therapy horses and dogs have depicted animal therapy helps to alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people going through rehabilitation for a drug use disorder are often found to respond well and have a greater sense of well-being when working with an animal.
Role of therapist:
The therapist here is relatively passive in comparison to other form of therapies and restricts themselves to observation and facilitation.