Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is just one type of treatment method utilized by psychologists that allows people to bond, play, and receive emotional support from an animal. Animal-assisted therapy is used for a wide range of medical, developmental and emotional disorders, including autism. The theory is that animals are a source of calming, non-judgmental support and can help with communication and social interaction.
In Australia, only accredited service animals are protected under disability laws. Many animals can be used in AAT including but not limited to dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, fish, and dolphins. It has been effective for children, adults, people on the autism spectrum, people suffering from chronic pain conditions, people navigating addiction, and people experiencing PTSD or trauma.
Animal-assisted therapy is different from using animals to give comfort and affection to people in hospital. It’s also different from using service, assistance or therapy animals. These animals live with families and are trained to do things like alert the family to early signs of seizures, stop a child from wandering, or interrupt repetitive behaviour.
Under the umbrella of AAT is Pet therapy, Canine therapy, Equine therapy, and Dolphin assisted therapy. Pet therapy consists of volunteers bringing trained pets to facilities where they are able to provide comfort and relieve stress. Canine therapy involves clients caring for and interacting with a dog, this can allow someone to rebuild strong social networks. Horse-assisted therapy teaches people the basics of horse handing and care, and then slowly engaging in recreational activities and goal focused exercises; clients have reported feeling more focused with an increase sense of purpose and responsibility.
The first formal therapeutic work and research into animal-assisted therapy was done in 1961 by child psychologist Dr Boris Levinson. When Dr. Levinson’s dog, Jingles, was in the room for the child’s therapy sessions, he noticed that the sessions were much more productive. Ultimately, Dr. Levinson discovered that children who were withdrawn and had difficulty communicating were more at ease when Jingles was present and oftentimes made real attempts at engaging in conversation.
Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
- Increased feeling of calm when an animal is present during therapy
- Increased comfort communicating emotions and concerns that be difficult to share without a soothing animal present
- Increased movement and activity through play, walking, or swimming
- Providing companionship and social interactions
- Increased endorphins
- Reduced blood pressure
- Decreased stress hormones (such as cortisol and epinephrine)
Costs of Animal Assisted Therapy
- More peer-reviewed evidence in scientific journals is required as this is a relatively new therapeutic approach compared to other approaches to therapy
- This approach can sometimes be expensive depending on the facility or type of animal assisted therapy you are going to use
- The wellbeing and safety of animals and clients – the risk of harm is low, however it is important to consider potential physical injury in rare circumstances
At New Directions Psychology we are slowly introducing our two mascots – Bella and Arlo (dogs) to our Mt Lawley practice. So, from time to time, you might just see one of them…
We will put up some photos of Arlo and Bella on our Facebook site 😊
Where can I go for more information?
Animal Assisted Therapy Services
Therapy Animals Australia: https://therapyanimals.org.au/therapy-dogs-and-animals/
Red Rocks Stud: https://www.redrocksstud.com.au/
The Equine Psychotherapy Institute: https://www.equinepsychotherapy.net.au/
Animal Companions: https://aciwa.org.au/about-us/what-we-do/pets-providing-therapy/
Assistance Dogs: https://www.assistancedogs.org.au/services/animal-assisted-therapy/
Training therapy dogs
Perth Canine Craft: https://www.perthcaninecraft.com.au/services/
Therapy Dogs Australia: https://therapydog.com.au/
Applying for assistance animal approval
Applying for public access rights: https://www.dlgsc.wa.gov.au/local-government/community/cats-and-dogs/applying-for-assistance-dog-approval