Pet Therapy

Healing and Help from Pets

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is a field that has grown over the past 20 years. We’ve been calling dogs “man’s best friend” for a long time. Modern pet therapy combines a number of different elements, but always involves some degree of a patient interacting with domestic animals under supervision.

Animal assisted therapy:

What Kind of Animals?

Pet therapy can involve almost any kind of animal, but the majority of animal-assisted counseling involves highly social, domesticated animals, and most often animals that are amenable to training. Dogs and horses are very often used as therapy animals: they are familiar to many people, they can be trained to behave in reliable patterns, and are often very skilled at working with patients who have great trouble working with other humans.

Other animals can and have been used. Cats, for example, are superb comfort and companion therapists for patients in need of the calm, independent social interaction cats offer. Many small animals bring out the gentlest behaviors in patients, and may be used with caution for both patient and animal. For those suffering particular phobias, animals specific to the phobia may be integrated into ongoing therapy.

Conditions Often Addressed through Animal Therapy

As indicated, phobias are a common condition to receive some degree of pet therapy, though only after some degree of counseling has already been successful. Patients who are having difficulty dealing with social interactions are often given the demanding, but less confrontational experience, of interacting with animals. Attention can be focused at the beginning on safe, calm, self-discipline and interactions and on forming a bond on a non-verbal level. Patients with autistic spectral conditions, who are recovering from abuse, or trying to regain confidence, may all be entrusted to the gentle friendship of a domestic animal.

Elders suffering various cognitive problems, those suffering forms of brain injury, even those suffering nothing more specific than depression and alienation – almost any patient in need of a situation that demands attention and calm, but which offers huge emotional rewards, can benefit. The core advantages come from the pleasure relations that animals can bring, combined with the understandable demands animals can require.

Psychology and Psychiatry

When looking for a counselor who works in animal therapy, the first consideration may be professional training to deal with the severe complications of many forms of mental affliction. In many instances, your first step will be finding a professional with a psychiatric or psychological background who has the experience with animals and conviction in the usefulness of the therapy. This is of particular importance when dealing with a major mental health or development problem that can only be addressed from several angles at once. Having an experienced and supportive professional in charge of overall strategies can make the difference between success and failure.

Animal Therapists

On a less intense level, are trained animal therapists. More in keeping with nurses, physical therapists, and entry level counselors, these professionals may be trained, certified, and licensed to provide various forms of therapy using specific animals. For mild conditions, they may be appropriate to oversee all levels of therapy, but for more extreme conditions, or highly vulnerable patients, they should work in tandem with more specialized professionals.

Both specialized mental health professionals and less highly trained animal therapists can be found through referral services, who are often the most prepared to provide contacts for this relatively new form of therapy.


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