Animal-Assisted Therapy

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy

Horses have been utilized as a therapeutic aid since the ancient Greeks used them for those people who had incurable illnesses. Its earliest recorded mention is in the writings of Hippocrates who discussed the therapeutic value of riding.  The benefits of therapeutic riding have been dated back to 17th century literature where it is documented that it was prescribed for gout, neurological disorders and low morale.

Based on current research, there are many conditions/disorders that benefit from animal-assisted therapy in diverse settings around the world. Those conditions include but are not limited to psychological disorders, developmental disorders, dementia, cancer, chronic pain, advanced heart failure, etc.

According to the Journal Annals of Long-Term Care, the therapeutic potential of the relationship between animals and humans was first recognized and explored in the 1800s by Florence Nightingale, who found that pets reduced anxiety in psychiatric patients and children. As early as the 1930s, Freud was known to bring his dog to therapy sessions.

However, it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that psychotherapists began more deeply exploring the ways in which the human-animal relationship could be used to benefit the therapy process. Finally, in the late 1980s, the first programs to certify animals for therapy arose. 

Now, animals can be found in therapeutic programs in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to treatment programs for children with psychiatric issues, to substance abuse programs, and more.

Based on current research, there are many conditions/disorders that benefit from animal-assisted therapy in diverse settings around the world.

A strong bond exists between animals and people. Animals are accepting, non-threatening and non- judgmental. This makes it easier for clients to open up.

Some benefits of animal-assisted therapy include improved fine motor skills and balance, increased focus and attention, self-esteem and ability to care for oneself. Animal assisted therapy reduces anxiety, grief and isolation, blood pressure, depression, and risk of heart attack or stroke. Within this modality, there is a marked improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic program or group activity, increased trust, empathy and teamwork. In turn, it facilitates a greater self-control, enhanced problem-solving and social skills.

Because individuals normally enjoy working with animals, this modality of therapy can be particularly beneficial for clients who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in traditional modalities of therapy.

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