Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an experiential treatment method that involves clients interacting with animals, which could include dogs, horses, cats, or birds, among others. AAT has been used to treat issues including ADD, abuse, depression, anxiety, drug abuse, eating disorders, and more. AAT can take different forms. Depending on the animal, in animal assisted therapy, a client might keep a dog, cat, or other pet at home for emotional support. If you are staying in a residential treatment facility, such as a hospital or a rehab center, a trained therapy animal might visit you. Or, during a session, a client may groom, feed or walk the horse while the therapist observes the clients' reactions to the horse's behavior (known as equine assisted therapy). Therapists that utilize AAT often believe that animals provide comfort and calm as well as instant and accurate feedback of a client's thoughts and feelings, which can help both the therapist and client become more aware of these emotions. Animals are nonjudgmental, which can help clients connect with another living being that accepts them – making it easier to learn to trust, and easing the path into having trusting relationships with other people. Think this approach might be right for you? Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s AAT specialists today.

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I utilize Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Interventions. During COVID-19, since I am seeing clients entirely through telehealth, I welcome your pets into session to help you cope. I also use many metaphors involving the animal world to help you see different perspectives. When it is again safe to return to in-person sessions, my animals (golden retriever and kenyan sandboas) look forward to greeting you.

— BRIANA MESSERSCHMIDT, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Alamitos, CA

When doing therapy, I often relate back to animals and how they function in their own world. Do animals have anxiety and to what extent do they have anxiety? Why is anxiety chronic in humans but not in wild animals? When it comes down to it, humans are animals and if we look at animals behavior, we can often help explain our own behavior and get back to our natural instincts.

— Chase Tucker, Licensed Professional Counselor in Lakewood, CO

I have completed levels 1 and 2 training from the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy and received supervision in AAPT. My therapy dog, Rogue, is registered with Pet Partners and she is an eager and active co-facilitator of therapy sessions.

— Rachel Narrow, Clinical Social Worker in Chevy Chase, MD

I often bring my two parrots into the office when doing in person therapy. I've been bring them in for years. I originally brought them in for a young boy on the spectrum and my other clients met them. Other's began demanding I bring them in and it grew from there. They connect in a way that humans do not and often help people get over their anxiety. Plus, they are just fun!

— Jeffrey LiCalzi, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in Wake Forest, NC

I am trained in animal assisted therapy. Our office does have a feline co-therapist, who is available upon request.

— Amanda Trost, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Sugar Land, TX

My therapy dog, Lilly, LOVES her job. A sweet and gentle Cavanese, Lilly greets patients with great enthusiasm, enjoys giving kisses, and knows when it's time to offer comfort or lay quietly in her bed. She is hypoallergenic and weighs about 20 pounds. She sometimes snores loudly during sessions, but more often wants to sit next to patients as a warm and comforting presence during therapy.

— Lauren Bartholomew, Psychologist in King of Prussia, PA

I offer Animal Assisted Play Therapy to children to help with a variety of issues, including low self esteem, depression, anxiety, attention and learning difficulties, and poor social skills, to name a few. It primarily focuses on the child's strengths while also addressing his or her life challenges. While all of my therapy during the Covid-19 crisis is provided online, this particular form of therapy needs to be done in the office. I will resume offering it once it is safe to do so.

— Lisabeth Wotherspoon, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Rochester, NH

Animal Assisted Therapy is when animals are used in goal directed treatment sessions. These goals can be physical, mental, emotional and/or social. A visitation program is when animals accompany their owners to a facility and visit with the patients or residents. Regardless of the type of program, all animals should be temperament tested, given a complete veterinary screening, and receive obedience training before beginning to work with patients.

— Allyson (Ally) Ridling, Social Worker in Beaverton, OR

I have a 5 year old Weimarainer that has been trained as a Therapy Dog by Pets for Life. He has also been trained as a Certified Therapy Dog by Canine Speciality Training, LLC. He has worked with me of over 3 years. He spent over a year at CAPA (Child Abuse Prevention Agency) in Independence, MO, and loved working with the children and families there before following me into private practice. Feel free to stop by and say "hi" to Fynn and he will give you lots of kisses!

— Kay Hamilton, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Overland Park, KS

I have been using ferrets and parrots in pet therapy since 2014 and in animal-assisted therapy since 2018. For those who are allergic to dogs, but find animals to have a therapeutic presence I have found both ferrets and parrots to be a great alternative.

— Alex Byrne, Licensed Master of Social Work in Owings Mills, MD

Being in an AAT certification program, I continue to build upon my knowledge of the subtle yet powerful healing benefits of bonding with animals. Having experienced it myself, I incorporate themes related to animal care and training to provide insight into human difficulties like boundaries and emotional regulation. In the near future, I plan to bring in a canine partner to facilitate the therapeutic process with clients who feel animals could be helpful in healing.

— Kerry Murphy, Student Therapist in Denver, CO

Spending time with a therapy dog can produce a number of mental health benefits, from enhanced relaxation to reduced stress and anxiety. Therapy dogs are carefully selected dogs that undergo intense, individualized training. Research has shown that spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog can lower anxiety by 24% and reduce levels of the stress hormone epinephrine by 17%. I have personally experienced the benefits a therapy dog can provide. As a result, I chose to certify my mixed breed dog.

— Lani Chin, Clinical Psychologist in Monterey, CA

I am the founder of the American Association of Animal-Assisted Therapy and love working with my dogs.

— Martin Wesley, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Animal therapists can team up with human clinicians to maximize the effectiveness of therapy. I utilize animal assisted therapy with clients who are comfortable with it on a regular basis as both an anxiety reduction technique and an engaging way to help clients relax and connect. Animal assisted therapy is not a required part of sessions, but is always offered.

— Taylor Spoltore, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Greenville, SC

I have worked for 5 years volunteering for Pet Partners and training dogs for therapy. I started using Animal Assisted Interventions within the school district then transitioned to Animal Assisted Therapy while studying at UNT and have been to hospitals, colleges, and immigration sites with my therapy dog team. I enjoy watching how an animal can change the emotions and behaviors of someone and how the animal can sense their need.

— Stacie Garcia, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Leonard, TX