In Object Relations Theory, the role of the therapist is that of an observer and a facilitator. The therapist allows for client's projections onto the animal through spontaneous interactions. Many times it is difficult for the therapist to read into the client's transference when they are the object. The therapist may experiencing their own subjectivity or countertransference as well. However, an animal allows the therapist a more objective lens with which they can observe the animal and client, and make inferences about the client's internal working models. "The presence of an animal in the therapy setting provides the therapist with additional tool and opportunities for breakthrough that otherwise might not occur” (p.29). The therapist also has the opportunity to observe the triangle of interaction, between therapist-client-animal, which gives more clues about the client inner world and opens doors to meaningful conversation. "The goal of the psychotherapist is to utilize the analytic third" as a vehicle for the understanding of the conscious and unconscious experience of the analysand" (p.483). The role of the therapist is to create conditions for these processes of reenactment to promote change through insight.
The role of the client is to engage relationally in a free flowing and nonstructural way. They are initiators, reactors, and observers themselves within the triangle of therapist-client-animal. They are not instructed to sit down and talk per se, but invited to engage in relationship building and enact spontaneous representations from their lives. The client has a chance to encounter their unconscious thoughts and feelings which are being reproduced and repeated in the here and now in therapy with the therapist and the animal. The goal of therapy is for the client to find their true self and attain missing environmental and relational experiences within the therapy.
Some of the concepts of Object Relations theory as it applies to AAP are: Having the animal be a medium for the client's projections, the analytic third, groups, and play therapy:
Projections are enactments of beliefs or experiences by the client to an object, which is the animal in AAP. This object becomes a representation of their mother, father, or a previous relationship, thus allowing the client to gain awareness and insight. There is spontaneous projection, animal-triggered projection, and initiated projection by the client. There are fantasy interactions which are instinctual wishes within relationships such as for safety, security and control. In addition, there is the concept of internalization, externalization, transference and countertransference phenomena. Projections onto the animal may also be used as an assessment tool.
The analytic third is where "the client and therapist observe each other's interactions with the animal and evaluate each other on the basis those interactions" (p.59). This opens the conversation between therapist and client about what the other sees and does with the animal. All parties are subjective in the triangle which reveals layers of transference or countertransference.
The group process can be summarized by the interactions which take place in the therapist-client-animal triangle which has elements of a group. The client will most likely search for his/her relative place in the group by joining, rejecting, denying, or competing. Situations and enactments take place where there is a unique role fulfilled by each member.
Play therapy with children provides a space for safe practice of learning skills and communication. In AAP when working with children that have experienced trauma, "reenactment of events (often symbolically) by role-playing using their own feelings and fantasies, children reconcile themselves with these events and achieve a feeling of control" (p.81). Play is the language of children. Erikson also defined play as a natural method of self-healing.
Object-Relations theory is that it allows for in vivo interactions between the client and therapist and animal. It is so rare to be able to observe the manifestation of a person's interactional patterns, belief systems and internal working models in individual therapy unless inferred through the therapist-client relationship. Many forms of therapy rely heavily on self-report and interventions or assignments usually take place outside of the office. With object-relations therapy, projections and enactments capture a more accurate picture of the client's internalized views of relationships and themselves for the therapist to see. Finally, it allows for a reparative experience right then and there with the therapist, and the animal which is more forgiving than humans in the outside world.