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432 -Animal Assisted Therapy
Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMHC
Executive Director,
Podcast Host: Counselor Toolbox, Case Management Toolbox

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– Define Animal Assisted Therapy
– Explore the research around animal assisted therapy
– Review some general cautions

– Animal Assisted Activities/Pet-Therapy
– Integration of animals into activities to facilitate motivation, education and recreation, encouraging casual interaction without following a specific set of criteria or goals
– Animal Assisted Therapy
– Intentional and therapeutic, whereby the animal’s role is integral in assisting with mental health, speech, occupational therapy or physical therapy goals, and augments cognitive, physical, social and/or emotional well-being
General Benefits
– Reduced blood pressure
– Release of oxytocin
– Increase in understanding of UPR (3 legged dog, one eyed cat, blind horse)
– Increase ability to take multiple perspectives
– Enhance empathy and compassion
– Biofeedback/Mindfulness
– Stress reduction and laughter
– Increased physical activity
– Consistency and clear communication
– Decrease learned helplessness behaviors and increase a sense of control over self and environment

General Benefits
– Act as a bridge by which therapists can reach patients who are withdrawn, uncooperative, and uncommunicative
– Participants interacting with the animals were more inclined to smile and demonstrate pleasure, and were more sociable and relaxed with other participants
– More sensitive issues can be rendered less incendiary when an animal is involved
– A multisensory aspect is also available when an animal is involved; increasing the level of attention and interest of the client who is active or struggles with focus or concentration

Which Animals Can Be used
– Any Animals…
– Fish (AAA)
– Guinea Pigs (AAA)
– Dogs (AAA, AAT)
– Cats (AAA, AAT)
– Rabbits (AAA)
– Horses (AAA, AAT)
– Dolphin (AAA, AAT)

Hippotherapy (Equine)
– Using horse movement to compliment therapy
– Self-awareness
– Developing trust and respect
– Meeting/Join Up (understanding the prey/predator relationship)
– Petting
– Feeding
– Addressing personalization/exploring dialectics
– Going into a barn or trailer
– Bonding/relaxation
– Confidence
– Acceptance (despite being different)
– Choosing animals with differences
– Highlighting unique animal pairs (donkey and goat)
Farm Animals
– The diversity of a farm experience offers much stimulation, and provides the basis for creative and varied interventions, such as providing the client with opportunities to practice
– Nurturing activities
– Organizational skills
– Perspective taking (no 2 animals are exactly alike)
– Problem solving

– A “dog’s social life is organized around dominance-subordinance relationships”
– Dogs are expected to obey commands and offer clients what is often referred to as “unconditional acceptance” (Brewster vs. Duke)
– Difference in the children’s response during sessions, including more laughing, increased eye contact, communication with the dog, and a desire to connect through feeding the animal dog treats
– Teaching people positive dog training techniques could help them understand
– Clear communication
– Relationship development (trust, respect, nurturance and termination)
– Empathy
– Perspective-taking
– Delayed gratification
– The connection between behaviors and consequences in a non-threatening manner

– Teaching people positive dog training techniques could help them
– Learn patience and consistency
– Develop clear communication
– Learn about relationship development (trust, respect, nurturance and termination)
– Develop empathy and compassion
– Enhance perspective-taking to understand behavior/reactions
– Delay gratification
– Understand the connection between behaviors and consequences in a non-threatening manner
– Increase confidence and self-efficacy

– More benefits
– Helps separate bad behaviors from bad organisms
– Improves awareness of cognitive distortions esp personalization, all or nothing thinking, mind reading
– Teaches the appropriate way to treat themselves and others
– Helps the person get out of their own head (depression, addiction)
– Serves as a biofeedback monitor (dogs mirror owner reactions)
– Models unconditional positive regard
– Reward/de-escalation/reduced anxiety and depression via enhancing relaxation and oxytocin (doctors office, studying, flying…)
– Reduces hypervigilance (PTSD, panic attacks, seizures)
– Increases physical activity
– Helps set circadian rhythms

– “Cat socialization toward is based on
– “Give and take”
– Mutuality/reciprocity
– Respect for their independent nature
– In contrast to human-horse or human-dog relationships. Chandler (2005) listed the following attributes for felines in therapy:
– Quietness and calmness
– Level of comfort with being touched
– Motivation to be around people
– Playful cats offer lighthearted moments which can act as an “icebreaker”
– Distraction/distress tolerance when discussing stressful events

– Teach the client how to direct the animal, and then collaboratively problem-solve when confronted with an obstacle to promote self-monitoring, mindfulness, and to empower the client and encourage generalization to daily life situations, among other things.
– Parenting (consistency and clear communication)
– Communicating with a spouse or boss
– Giving and receiving affection
– Being aware of emotions and nonverbal communications
– Understanding the reciprocal nature of interactions
– Greeting Brew at the door
– The client and counselor could collaboratively develop behavioral experiments to involve animals.
– If a client believes she cannot be assertive. A behavioral task may be as simple as calling for the animals to come in, or placing her in charge of directing the animal to accomplish a task.
– The counselor could question client to encourage mindfulness of her actions and experience to help expose cognitive distortions.
– Cognitive rehearsal could be facilitated is assertiveness is a problem she has encountered in the past.
– Have the client try to walk a donkey into a barn, or get a dog into a crate.
– Discuss her thoughts as the animal resists (gives up, gets angry etc)
– Discuss reasons why the animal may not be complying.
– Work through the exercise to increase assertiveness. (win/win)

– Activities designed to draw attention to existing dynamics encourage the family to acknowledge current behaviors and interrelationships, and reflect on healthier interactions.
– One scenario may be asking that family work together to maneuver a horse or dog from point A to point B without talking to each other or to the animal.
– Parent and child concretely exploring the metaphor of feeling ‘reined in’ through horse or dog work. The family can discover the animal is more compliant and responsive with a looser rein or leash.
– When held tight, the animal may fight to gain control, or will become passive and stubborn, much like a child on a tight rein

– Clients with less-developed verbal skills can experience a sense of success when interacting with an animal.
– Asking a dog to sit, or offering food to an animal provides positive interaction without the need for language
– Individuals with lowered self-esteem and confidence can experience acceptance
– People with social anxiety can walk a dog in a public place

Multisensory Activities
– Photographing or videotaping the animals
– “What was it thinking-”
– Scrapbooking
– Learning about special animals especially at a rescue
– She was abused, blind, starved and had broken bones in her back. She was also  understandably afraid of people.  There is no telling what kind of horror she had survived!  She immediately received the medical care she needed.
– Unique friendships
– Story writing
– Animals can provide an entity onto which the client may project or identify (Reichert, 1998), i.e. storytelling from the animal’s point of view as a means for the client to raise metaphorical, or even factual, details of a topic otherwise difficult to talk about
Multisensory Activities
– Journaling
– Their training progress (consistency and efficacy)
– The use of metaphors and symbolism can be very effective as well
– What animal are you most like and why-
Other Activities
– Memory/Cognitive:
– Remembering dog’s name, breed or history
– Remembering handler’s name
– Activities with dog’s picture book
– Giving commands
– Remembering colors, shapes, directions
– Problem Solving:
– Choosing type of toy or treat
– Deciding where to go during a walk and how to get there
– Giving dog appropriate commands
– Positive redirection
– Choosing type of activity to do with the dog
– Deciding where to hide treats for the dog to find

– Client’s physical and emotional response to a particular species of animal as being based on “previous direct and indirect experiences with as well as their beliefs, desires, and fears about specific species”.
– The role of animals in the client’s life outside the therapy session is another cultural consideration (Farmers, hunters, pet owners)
– sanitation and the potential for disease must be addressed.
– Animal inoculations and parasite control must be current (Delta Society, 1996)
– Clients must also be screened for potential allergies or sensitivities
– Environmental distractions, combined with the predictability of the client’s behavior, can present challenges to the counselor, particularly in an outdoor setting
– Elderly and small children often report feeling safer around smaller animals because they were afraid of being knocked over by a larger, more rambunctious dog

– There are a variety of techniques that can be used to incorporate animals into counseling practice
– Animals help develop
– Self esteem
– Confidence
– Assertiveness
– Empathy
– Mindfulness
– Distress Tolerance
– Effective Communication Skills
– Animals can also serve to relieve anxiety