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Rufus was retired from therapy dog service Summer 2022

Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling (AAT-C)

The American Humane Association defines animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on their website as:

“a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.”

Therapy Dog Rufus

Those of us who have experienced the joy a pet can bring recognize the therapeutic qualities that are inherent in the human-animal relationship.  As a therapist, my goal is to incorporate the benefits of AAT into my therapy practice with my therapy dog Rufus as an agent in the counseling process. 

AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning [cognitive functioning refers to thinking and intellectual skills].  AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature.  This process is documented and evaluated.” (From Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy)

Reason to Practice Animal Assisted Therapy:

  • Increase motivation to attend sessions

  • Healing nuturance and affection through physical contact with the therapy pet

  • Soothing comfort from petting or holding therapy pet

  • Experience genuine acceptance from the therapy pet

  • Enjoyment and entertainment

  • Form a more trusting relationship with therapists who demonstrate they can be trusted by the way they interact with the therapy pet

  • Enhance client's personal awareness from the way the animal interacts with or responds to the client

Animal Assisted Therapy assists the therapist and client to achieve goals including:

  • Improving Self-Esteem

  • Developing Social Skills

  • Modeling Healthy Relationships

  • Increase motivation

  • Increase attention skills

Additional benefits of AAT-C:

  • Encourages Soothing Atmosphere

  • Builds Rapport Between Therapist and Client

  • Decrease in stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and aldosterone

  • Increase in beneficial hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins

Neurobiology of the Human-Animal Social Connection:

  • Within a few minutes of positive interactions  between a dog and human

  • Levels of oxytocin, endorphins and dopamine in both person and dog rise significantly
    Oxytocin - Effects including pleasure, soothing and calming moods, and stress reduction.  Also contributes to social connection and pair bonding
    Endorphins - Help relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria
    Dopamine - Controls brains reward and pleasure centers

Psychophysiological Health Benefits:

  • Increased concentrations of beta-endorphin, oxytocin, prolactin, beta-phenylethylamine, and dopamine.

  • Decrease in cortisol levels in humans

  • Decrease in blood pressure levels

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