Some Benefits, Just To Mention a Few
Some of the benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy include1:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved social skills
- Greater self-control
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased ability to care for oneself
- Reduced hypertension, and risk of heart failure or stroke
- Reduced need for medication
- Enhanced problem-solving skills
- Increased focus and attention
“Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”
Animal-Assisted Therapy improves people’s mental, physical, social and emotional functioning with the help of animals, like horses, dogs, and rabbits, even dolphins and llamas too. Animal-Assisted Therapy has been used extensively in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, therapeutic boarding schools and mental health centers. Such therapy can be administered individually or in groups, led by licensed therapists or professionals with specialized expertise.
Making use of the natural bond evidenced between animals and people, and engaging in basic animal-care practices, like walking, brushing, petting and feeding, people can have therapeutic experiences that help them open up to expressing and processing their thoughts and emotions like never before.
“Animals…show us what’s missing in our lives, and how to love ourselves more completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are, and the purpose of why we’re here.” Trisha McCagh
Conditions That Can Benefit
People with a variety of conditions may benefit from Animal-Assisted Therapy, including1:
- Autism-Spectrum Disorders
- Heart disease
- Developmental disorders
- Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia
- Emotional and behavioral disorders
- Chronic pain
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France
How does Animal-Assisted Therapy work?
Most people like and relate to animals, and because of this natural affinity, when animals are introduced to a therapeutic setting, it can have a calming and soothing effect, which reduces stress and anxiety. Having animals present, like dogs or cats, many people tend to relax and feel more emotionally safe.3
According to the American Counseling Association, besides helping to calm individuals struggling with trauma issues, being with or even caring for animals can draw out withdrawn people into a conversation, which can only enhance the therapeutic process. For substance abusers, having animals present can be used to redirect or distract their attention from cravings or triggers when they threaten.
Studies have shown that Animal-Assisted Therapy is especially beneficial for people who like animals, but not so much for those who are afraid of or dislike them.
“Relieving stress can help a body produce hormones and neurotransmitters that aid in physical and emotional stability and health.” National Association of Social Workers
Most Common Forms of Animal-Assisted Therapy
Although most all animals can be used as such in therapeutic circumstances, there are those that are more common because of their prevalence and best meeting patient needs. Dogs and cats are the most frequently used animals in Animal-Assisted Therapy, more often meeting the therapeutic goals outlined in a rigorously conceived treatment plan.
There’s just something about dogs and people. You never hear about any other animal as being “man’s best friend.” Seemingly, dogs have held a special place in people’s hearts since time memorial. Their energy is infectious. Their furriness makes people of all walks just want to pet them. Their cuteness can bring a smile to the hardest of hearts. And their unconditional love makes dogs by far the most popular choice of animal for Animal-Assisted Therapy.
Because horses have similar behaviors with humans, especially socially-responsive behaviors, horses are easy to build a connection with. Therapeutic Riding is one of the better-known therapies associated with horses, but the simple leading of and caring for horses has demonstrable positive effects on people as well. A line of communication inevitably forms, which personalizes people’s relationships with horses. Horses are non-judgemental, and therefore present an unbiased attitude toward those closest to them. There’s nothing like daily running a curry comb over an appreciative horse’s body.
Cat-based therapy is subtly-veiled “contact” therapy involving cats. Such cats, those that have a “rag doll” nature, or that “pet me” temperament, are especially effective for treating people’s various physical and psychological conditions, like arthritis, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, ADHD, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis, and autism. Cats have become the animal of choice for people who are unable to work with large animals or who are afraid of horses and/or dogs.
Other Animal-Assisted Therapies involve fish, birds, dolphin, rabbitts, and even Llamas.
1What is Animal-Assisted Therapy, CRC Health, 2016
2Understanding the Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapies, American Addiction Centers, 2018.