From Furry Friend to Professional Assistant: The Role of Animals in Healthcare & Therapy
Animals can be more than your best friend. They also can be a valuable resource in helping therapists and counselors work with their patients. Animal assisted therapy, or AAT for short, is a therapy method that allows the patient to interact with an animal, whether it is a dog, cat, horse or even a dolphin, to derive some psychological benefit.
Major Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy has shown major emotional benefits in patients in all situations, from the mental health ward to children's therapy. The animals reduce stress, help the therapist appear less threatening, alleviate anxiety levels, and provide external motivation factors. Animals can often break through barriers that therapists wouldn't be able to on their own, especially with patients who have trouble communicating or are entirely nonverbal.
Animal assisted therapy is used throughout the counseling world, but here are a few significant environments where you might see these animals at work:
• Nursing homes
• Psychiatric wards
• Group homes
Types of Animals Used in Animal Assisted Therapy
You may immediately assume that it's only dogs used in animal assisted therapy, but in reality there are a number of animals that help foster a sense of compassion, empathy or connection in patients. In addition to dogs, other highly intelligent mammals such as dolphins and horses are often found used in AAT techniques. Even smaller animals such as hamsters, rats and mice make an appearance from time to time.
Animal Assisted Therapy Certification
Even if you're an animal lover and already working in the healthcare or counseling field, you won't be able to start bringing your favorite pet dog into work right away. However, there are many ways to become certified to perform animal assisted therapy. Pet Partners is one organization that issues the certification through a course that requires you to go through an online component that teaches you how to handle your animal in a therapy situation.
These types of trainings typically include learning the body language of the patients to see if they are reacting favorably to the animals. The animal also usually goes through a health screening process and has to get the nod from a veterinarian. Finally, you and your animal may go through an exam that tests how you handle your animal, how the animal handles patients, and other important skill sets.