What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Animal-assisted interventions are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness.
Pictured above: Esther Adams-Aharony, World, National, and Regional Champion Equestrian, EAGALA Certified Practitioner and Israeli Licensed Social Work
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) refers to a goal-directed intervention in which an animal interacts with a patient to support recovery from health problems (Fine, 2010). AAT first emerged within the therapeutic field in the 1960s. Psychologist Boris Levinson included his pet dog within his therapy sessions and observed that the patients who were withdrawn and had trouble communicating were more at ease and engaged in presence of the dog. Since then, Levinson authored his book titled “Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy” which established the much-needed evidence base in support of AAT and its various impacts on treatment and overall health. Today, research into AAT is extensive and it is used throughout a myriad of treatment modalities with different animals ranging from small animals like cats and dogs to horses and cattle (Koukourikos et al., 2019). Its widespread use stems from its scientifically accepted benefits on therapeutic outcomes such as treatment engagement and therapeutic alliance, but also on overall psychological wellbeing factors. Effectively, AAT successfully promotes the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin which are neurochemicals that are implicated in elevating our mood and happiness (Menna et al., 2019). Moreover, it lowers anxiety, helps people relax, lowers blood pressure and provides fundamental supportive elements such as comfort, company and emotional connection (Fiksdal et al., 2019; Silva & Osorio, 2018). The reported benefits are extensive, and new research is showing that AAT holds robust therapeutic properties that provides tangible benefits to the individual.