What is Animal Assisted Therapy ?
Lets talk a little about animal assisted therapy. Animal Assisted Therapy or Pet Therapy (as it is also referred to), is a natural and holistic therapy that pre-dates science. It involves the use of animal interventions, within the therapy session, to aid the therapeutic tool
“Introduction of animals into a human service system can provide the calming, unconditional love & attention, that is needed to enable the service users to thrive – moving from illness towards health”
The History of Animal Assisted Therapy
Animism is an ancient belief that all living creatures have a natural soul or essence, that gives life to the body, and this soul is free to roam when the animal is not in a conscious state. The human/animal bond is a strong part of this belief – and that connection is an integral part of Animal Assisted Therapy.
The earliest documented experiment about Animal Assisted Therapy, took place in the late 1700’s when a Quaker at The York Retreat, installed small animals and birds in the gardens there. Patients were not only free to wear their own clothes, but also to roam the grounds amongst the animals ~ this interaction was said to “awaken the social and benevolent feelings of patients”.
In the 1800’s this led to many institutions having animals in their grounds, to make them less “prison like”. Florence Nightingale observed that sick patients got comfort and companionship from animals.
Freud believed that we all have a basic animal essence, very similar to the belief of animism, but with modern science and the introduction of pharmaceutical remedies, the idea of animal assisted therapy was dimissed.
Boris Levinson – thought of as the father of pet therapy – founded “Pet Facilitated Therapy” in 1969. Discovered completely by accident, he stated that “Animals play an important part in the process of evolution. They are vital to our mental welfare.” As time has gone on, through the 1980’s and 1990’s, Animal Assisted Therapy has gathered more support in terms of showing the effect of animals on the human mind, and behaviours. They provide social support, and act as a social lubricant.
Aims & Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal Assisted Therapy aims to use animals, to help in the therapeutic process. By interacting with animals – whether it be handling, petting, walking, riding, grooming or even just watching – the benefits of therapy are magnified.
Animal interaction not only lowers the heart rate and therefore helps patients to relax, in what can be perceived as a clinical and often nerve wracking environment, it also allows individuals through that relaxation to focus on something less stressful than discussing their life problems with a therapist. The reduction in stress and anxiety about a situation, gives comfort about the surroundings and “stranger(s)” in the room, and provides a form of social support to the patient, allowing them to feel less isolated and alone.
Thats what it is about Animal Assisted Therapy that serves to improve and promote physical and emotional health and well being and, when used in partnership with other therapeutic tools, can allow people with mild to severe mental health issues improve their state of mind and ultimately their lives.
Some of the benefits of AAT are :
- Smiles & Enjoyment
- Personal & Social Development
- Strengthening of Self Esteem
- Increased Empathy
- Development of an Outward Focus
- Increase in Nurturing Skills
- Development of Rapport
- Increased Acceptance
- Socialisation Skills
- Mental Stimulation
- Encouragement of Physical Touch
- Contentment & Fulfilment (Spiritual)
- Decrease in Heart Rate & Blood Pressure (Physiological)