Research Findings & Summaries
According to Kruger & Serpell (2006) including animals in therapeutic settings has been around for decades. AAT relationships between humans and animals are not the same as an owner and his pet. AAT creates a positive therapeutic relationship that builds on companionship and goes beyond ownership. A combination of a qualified professional, AAI, and the intrinsic attributes of an animal facilitate therapy and promote progress. An animal’s spontaneous behaviors, opportunity for interaction, and sense of acceptance create many beneficial qualities within a therapeutic relationship. For example, the reduction of anxiety and arousal, act as a catalyst between the client and the counselor relationship, and reinforce healthy attachments. The purpose of AAT is to enhance self-efficacy, performance accomplishment, and personal agency through practices of cognitive restructuring and behavioral change.
In a study conducted by Buela-Casal & Virues Ortega (2006), it was concluded that long-term therapeutic interactions with animals improved human health and even at times prevented emotional distress. The empirical study suggested two possible hypothesis for this occurrence: animals provide a noncritical social support and/or it is due to classical conditioning through AAI of relaxation. Long-term interactions with animals moderate physiological variables, improve physical health, and promote psychological well being. Within the therapeutic process, animals facilitate person-to-person interactions. Clients can count on a non-evaluative social support through animals to buffer the start of the therapeutic relationship that will soon build. Through its research, the study also concluded that AAT increases the likelihood of a client’s survival after health problems.
Cynthia K. Chandler has focused her efforts to continue Levinson’s research and professional response on the use of animals in therapy. In her paper published in ERIC Digest (2001), Chandler compiled a list of mental health treatment goals that can be accomplished through AAT. For example:
-Improve socialization and communication
-Reduce isolation, boredom, and loneliness
-Brighten mood, lessen depression, and provide pleasure and affection
-Ameliorate grieving and loss
-Betterment of self-esteem and feelings of self-worth
-Improve cooperation and problem-solving ability
-Increase memory, recall, concentration, and attention
-Decrease manipulative behaviors
-Reduce abusive behavior
-Improve ability to trust
Chandler’s work has extended her research onto various environments such as schools and with various populations as well.
The need for AAT empirical research led Fawcett & Gullone’s (2001) research to question humans tendency to affiliate with nature, with other humans, and non-human species.
Buela-Casal, G., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2006). Psychological effects of human-animal interaction: Theoretical issues and long-term interaction effects. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(1), 52-57.
Chandler, C. (2001). Animal-assisted therapy in counseling and school settings. ERIC Digest, October (2001), 1-2. DOI: EDO-CG-01-05.
Farnum, J., & Martin, F. (2002). Animal-assisted therapy for children with pervasive developmental disorders. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 24(6), 657-670.
Fawcett, N. R., & Gullone, E. (2001). Cute and cuddly and a whole lot more? A call for empirical investigation into the therapeutic benefits of human-animal interaction for children. Behavior Change, 18(2), 124-133.
Kruger, K.A., & Serpell, J. A. (2006). Animal-assisted interventions in mental health: Definitions and theoretical foundations. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice, 2e, 21-38.