Animal Assisted Therapy: Life Lessons from Furry Friends

Photo Credit: reachAbility

Photo Credit: reachAbility

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a therapeutic process based on a client’s encounter with animals in the presence of a therapist. Animals can bring out the best in us; we interact with animals naturally, directly and in authentic ways. In AAT sessions, animals help create a space where clients feel comfortable, safe, and blame-free. Animals are, after all, known for their acceptance, warmth, love, and lack of judgement.

AAT can be used with people with a wide range of emotional disturbances, behavioral problems, depression and anxiety. It has been used with people experiencing ADHD, addictions, PTSD, trauma and more.

Here at reachAbility, a pair of lovely French bulldogs, a rabbit, a bearded dragon (also lovely) and Reachie, the fish, all contribute to the therapeutic environment. Clients who are greeted by the bulldog’s big brown eyes or the rabbit’s sniffing nose are less likely to be anxious and are comforted by the presence of these companions in their journey to wellness.

Animals enable and facilitate the expression of emotions and help create a sense of peace and quiet. Clients come to understand the animal’s reactions, possible fears or potential for anger as they work with the therapist to reduce their own feelings of frustration, anger, depression or aggression. They release and redirect emotions to the animals who “take” the client’s negative feelings away from them. The relationship clients form with the animals develops confidence and pride, and strengthens a sense of ability and self-esteem. They also serve as a model, or example, of how to interact with the people in their environment.

Treating and caring for the animals encourages accountability, commitment, and the ability to plan and reach goals. It promotes effective organization, cooperation and teamwork. It can help develop concentration and practices delayed gratification.

Communicating with animals develops heightened levels of sensitivity, empathy and the ability to acknowledge others’ needs. It improves social skills and communication, and helps create positive experiences the client can set against previous negative ones.

In terms of experiential learning, encountering and learning about animals exposes the client to knowledge, research and observations. It develops thinking and learning and natural curiosity, setting a stage for success each time a client accomplishes a new task with the animal.

One of the most fundamental advantages of Animal Assisted Therapy is that it provides the client with a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. This reciprocity, rare among medical therapies, makes AAT a unique and valuable route to healing.

To learn more about Animal Assisted Therapy at reachAbility, please visit the Clinic page!