What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?
AAT is a therapeutic approach that introduces trained companion-animals to identified individuals in a variety of settings with the aim of fostering healthy social, emotional, and physical health (Frerickson-MacNamara & Butler, 2010). Falling under the larger area of study know as Human-Animal Interactions (HAI), AAT is often considered an adjunct or complimentary approach to enhance existing protocols used to improve client or patient health (Rosetti & King, 2010; Yorke, 2013). AAT has been used with a variety of animals (from cats to horses to dolphins) within diverse settings (from schools to hospitals to prisons) to meet the needs of diverse individuals (from elementary students to hospital patients to prisoners).
The benefits of AAT are numerous and increased empirical work in education, psychology, social work, and health care, provide convincing support for its use. A number of positive outcomes are noted in response to AAT-based interventions across physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and linguistic aspects of human development (Barker et al., 2003; Cole & Gawlinski, 2000: McGibbon et al., 1998; Marr et al., 2000; Odendaal, 2000). Within a clinical setting, AAT is one approach through which the defenses of clients may be softened, rapport with clients may be established and built, and openness to receiving help may be initiated (Beck & Katcher, 1983; Fine, 2010; Kruger et al., 2004). In younger clients, animals are known to contribute to a number of favourable effects including the redirecting of attention, the calming of agitated behaviour, and the decreasing of emotional distress (Boat, 2006; Hart, 2000; Katcher & Wilkins, 1997; Strand, 2004).