Animal Assisted Therapy Improves Medical, Behavioral and Emotional Health

27 Apr

By Lois Jean Brady, MA, CCC-SLP, CAS

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal Assisted TherapyAnimal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) practitioners blend guided therapeutic interventions with safe and highly motivating animal-human interactions that are designed to focus and share attention. AAT’s ability to capture and maintain an individual’s focus can encourage and expand joint attention, which, according to Prizant (2008), is a pivotal skill or a fundamental building block that influences the development of emotional regulation, social skills, and communication.

By maintaining interest and attention, AAT works to support language and motor activities, encourage social interaction, provide sensory integration, and motivate students to do their best. This philosophy of engaging an individual’s interest often yields beneficial results for children and adults with special needs. According to noted researcher Barry Prizant, PhD, CCC-SLP (2008), “The most effective approaches [for Autism Spectrum Disorders] infuse developmental, child-centered, and family-centered principles in educational programming for children with ASD.”

“One of the most fundamental advantages of animal-assisted therapy over other therapeutic modalities is that it provides the patient a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity, rare among medical therapies, that makes AAT a unique and valuable route to healing.” – Dr. Andrew Weil (2011), world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine.

A Brief History

Although the term Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is relatively new, the use of animals to help people overcome illness and/or mental disorders is not a new idea. The earliest use of pet animals for therapeutic use was in Belgium in the middle ages, where pets and people were rehabilitated together, with pets providing a part of the natural therapy for the humans. Following this practice, The York Retreat in Germany and Bethel for the mentally ill and the homeless included animals, as a part of the therapeutic milieu reaping the benefits. Later, the Human Animal Bond was conceptualized by a Psychologist, Boris Levinson and Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian Nobel laureate in Physiology. This bond is explained as an intrinsic need in humans to bond with nature, especially in the background of their chaotic lives. The modern movement of using companion animals as a means of therapy had a multidisciplinary origin, involving the fields of veterinary medicine, psychology, sociology, psychiatry funded by pet food industry.

There are references to the fact that the early Greeks used horses to lift severely ill people’s spirits. In the 17th century, physicians reportedly began using horses as treatments to improve both physical and mental health issues in their patients. In the 1940s, the American Red Cross and the Army Air Corps established a farm where recuperating veterans could interact with and take care of animals while they were healing from war injuries and illness. Working with the animals was thought to comfort the recovering veterans, help them forget about the war, and focus on recovery.

How Can I Learn More?

Animal Assisted TherapyLois Jean Brady, MA, CCC-SLP, CAS, developed a 2-hour online continuing education course to provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals. The online course, Animal Assisted Therapy, is accredited for psychologists, counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists. Click here to learn more.

Lois Jean Brady, MA, CCC-SLP, CAS, is passionate about working with the special needs community. She found her calling while in high school, when she spent her summer breaks volunteering in camp programs for children with special needs. Lois has over two decades of experience working as a Speech-Language Pathologist specializing in autism spectrum disorder and is a Certified Autism Specialist. Educational accomplishments include a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology, Certificate in Assistive Technology, Certificate in Computer Based Intervention and completion of an Animal Assisted Therapy Program.

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Professional Development Resources maintains responsibility for all programs and content. Professional Development Resources is also approved by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by theTexas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.


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