Benefits of Animal Assisted Psychotherapy
The scholarly literature on AAT is expansive and rapidly growing. However, some major themes are easily identified, such as the benefits for integrating animals into counseling.
A summary of these benefits is as follows:
1. Animals are able to provide touch and affection to the client. This is especially important as counselors are extremely limited in their ability to provide soothing touch to the client (Chandler, 2005; Parish-Plass, 2008). In addition, some clients are especially starved for appropriate touch; thus, animals can fill this important need.
2. Animals lower psychological and physiological arousal in the client. This can be especially useful for clients who are working through trauma related issues and/or who have high anxiety about attending counseling (Lefkowitz, Paharia, Prout, Debiak, & Bleiberg, 2005).
3. As animals can exhibit some of the same challenging behaviors found in our clients (Chassman & Kinney, 2011), animals are a useful comparison objects. For example, if a client views herself as stubborn and the animal with which she is interacting with is stubborn, this allows the client to see her own behavior objectively.
4. Animals may increase motivation for clients to attend counseling (Lange, Cox, Bernert, & Jenkins, 2007).
5. Animals often make the counselor appear less threatening, thus increasing the client‟s comfort in session. Those who feel more comfortable in counseling are more likely to disclose (Fine, 2006).
6. Animals can regulate the emotional climate in the room (Fine, 2006); therefore, they can react to the client in the present moment (Chassman & Kinney, 2011).
7. Animals may have a normalizing effect on the client (Hart, 2006) 8. Animals can infuse a sense of warmth into the counseling milieu. As a result, rapport building between the counselor and client is increased (Fine, 2006).
9. While not a benefit, per se, it is important to note that we, as counselors, will often find ourselves on the “periphery of healing” (Johnson, 2011) when implementing AAT. Animals often take center stage in the counseling session. A counselor using this modality needs to be comfortable with being the co-therapist and trusting the animal's lead.
Wells Use of Feral Cats in AAT.pdf (533.31 kb)