Animal Assisted Therapy for Health Care, Mental Health, and Educational Professionals

Often professionals wish to incorporate animals into their professional practice.  If they take this action, involve the animal in a client care plan and document the results of the interventions, then this is Animal Assisted Therapy. 

Sometime professionals will bring their pet to work and have that pet “be present” during sessions. 

Both may be beneficial to the client, but only the first is actual “therapy”. 

The following descriptions are based on Standards of Practice for Animal Assisted Activities and Therapy originally published by the Delta Society in 1996:

Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) provide opportunities for motivational, educational and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. This may mean social interactions with those recuperating in the hospital, visits to retirement homes or even stress relief events on college campuses.

Animal-Assisted Therapy  (AAT) is when a therapy animal or team is overseen by a professional health provider, mental health provider or educational specialist and incorporated as part of a goal-oriented and structured therapeutic intervention. This may mean and animal/team works with a physical therapist where the client practices brushing a dog for strength building exercises or partnering with an occupational therapist where the task of attaching a secondary leash to an animal is an activity to work on fine motor skills.
Professionals may involve their own pets, seek trained pets from various organizations, use facility mascots, or work with a therapy animal team. All approaches have pros and cons!  An informational brochure describing AAA and AAT can be found here.

Animal-Assisted Education (AAE) is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.

On Line Course For Professionals

ElderPet, through its long-time affiliation with Pet Partners, has sponsored an on-line course titled Animal Assisted Therapy (AATUNH): An Introductory Course for Health Care, Mental Health and Educational Professionals wishing to add this form of therapy to their professional practice. Nurses, OT's, PT's CTRS's, social workers, psychologists, M.D.'s and special education instructors were invited to take the class. Animal Assisted Therapy was offered twice a year through UNH Professional Development and Training. It was a 4 week on-line course. The course offering is currently being reviewed and is not offered.

For those interested in the field, ElderPet recommends the updated digital version of Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions available through Amazon.

ElderPet also has a list of Recommended Reading that was provided to those taking the on-line course.