Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a new hit in the mental health therapy world. More therapists are starting to bring their beloved pets into their offices in hopes that their treasured Fido will also help others the way they help them. However, it is not just Fido in the office any more. In fact sometimes, therapy is not even in the office any more. Many professionals have a strong opinion about therapy being in an orthodox therapeutic setting, while others yearn to venture outside of the office. With AAT blooming in more mental health professional’s offices in America, it seems important to explain the differences in the terminology.
1. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the therapeutic use of an animal in an emotional or physical aid of a human. This is an umbrella term for animals used to help people emotionally, and sometimes physically heal. AAT can be used in the counseling setting, in a hospital, or even occupational and physical therapies. AAT can involve several different animals in several different settings, from any farm animal on a farm to bunnies, cats, and dogs in an office, an outdoor setting near an office, and even schools and hospitals. The possibilities are almost endless.
2. Animal Assisted in Counseling (AAT-C) is an intervention in counseling involving the use of an animal in session(s) to help clients reach their goals. This is one of the many creative interventions that Davidson Family Therapy provides. Currently there are no animals provided in the office setting, but clients are allowed to bring their pet from home to incorporate into the therapy session. The therapists believe in integrating things that client’s enjoy outside of therapy in therapy to ease the possibly uncomfortableness and pain that is often explored and experienced in session.
AAT-C can take place in an office setting with the client’s pet, or can involve going to a nearby farm with the help of Willow Equine to participate in equine assisted psychotherapy using the EAGALA model. AAT-C can be in the form of an activity or just having an animal present while therapy is occurring. It is a type of experiential therapy, which brings the client to a deeper emotional understanding of an issues being explored through using several different parts of the brain and body. Most work with counseling using horses does not including mounting of the horse and instead is all ground work. Therapy that involves a client being mounted on a horse is therapeutic riding and is explained below.
3. Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) is the use of an animal in an activity outside of therapy, which are typically social visits in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other similar settings. The most recent setting being in airports to help passengers who might have an aversion to flying. Charlotte Douglas International is one airport that participates in an AAA program.
4. Therapeutic Riding uses horses, and other farm animals, to aid in physical, emotional and social regulation. This is often used to help people gain muscle mass or strengthen muscle in people with a physical disability, and it is often used in people with autism. During this type of therapy the person is typically put on the horse’s back. This is great for people who have trouble with controlling certain parts of their body, or physical trauma.
5. Therapy Animals are animals used in therapy to reach a therapeutic goal. They are considered to be a colleague to the therapist. To be considered a therapy animal they must have completed a certification course. Many therapists bring their pets to the office and, do not have a certified therapy animals. The process of becoming a therapy animal is similar to the process of becoming a service animal, except that being a service animal requires even more specialized training. Therapy animals must have a good temperament, and not be reactive. They have to be able to be offered food and not take it, unless told to do so. The have to be able to not react to loud sounds, or intense emotional situations. This is all for the purposes of safety. When push comes to shove, these are still animals and have animal instincts and reactions. Safety can never 100% be guaranteed when working with any animal.
6. Service Animals are animal that have a training for a specific purpose. Examples include, seeing eye animals, bomb sniffing animals, diabetic animals etc. Unlike therapy animals, these animals (typically dogs) start their training at a young age. Their training is more intense and is typically for one major purpose related to a medical issues or public safety.
7. Companion Animal is a pet that does not need to have training of any kind, but has documentation from a doctor stating that the animal serves a therapeutic function. This is often an animal that is small enough that it can be taken on airplanes and into hotels.
8. Pets are the animals you own and love, also known as family to many Americans.