Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

Angelica Carlos English 4 19 March 2012 Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy Throughout human history, “animals have occupied a central position in theories concerning the ontology and treatment of sickness and disease” (Serpell 16). Animals have played a major role in the lives of humans in ways that have affected our entire being and survival. Countless amounts of people, animals, and time have been put into bringing AAT all over the world; as a result, five other countries have adopted this form of therapy.
The volunteers and workers of Animal Assisted Therapy have pushed to bring an exciting new therapy to children and adults all around. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a familiar method of treatment and rehabilitation in many diseases and conditions, where the animal becomes an important “behavioral facilitator”, causing improvements in the behavior and health of the patient. “Numerous authors and medical professionals point to its importance and in particular that the positive feedback between the patient, the animal, and the therapist reduces many symptoms, and improves the quality of life” (Yeh 2005).
The history of Animal Assisted Therapy can be traced back to the 9th Century. It is a goal-oriented intervention in which an animal that meets the criteria becomes an integral part of the treatment process for patients. The benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy far outweigh the risks, and should be used and recognized as an effective form of therapy. AAT in a natural environment brings about the encounter between a patient and an animal, which elevates the motivation and strength of the individual. The therapist-animal-patient trio establishes such mechanisms which increase the level of communication. It enhances motivation, the driving force that heals” (Journal of Psychology 44). The patient learns to experience himself/herself in relation to others, and to better perceive truth and reality. Pressure from school can exacerbate medical and psychological pathologies in kids. “The use of Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities maybe [a] useful tool which could be offered in school counseling” (Chandler 2000). If AAT is offered in schools, it could bring in students who are too scared and embarrassed to talk about their problems. The presence of an animal can facilitate a trust-bonding relationship between therapist and client” (Chandler 2000). The bond between client and therapist is essential because without a connection no progress will be made in the recovery of the patient/client. Additionally, “Animal Assisted Therapy interactions are goal directed, individualized to the patient and has documented progress” (Bloomquist). The purpose of AAT is to develop checkpoints and make a patient’s recovery fast and fun. With the goals in mind, it is easier to track a patient’s progress.

Animals keep the patient in check; “positive psychological and psychosocial [and physiological] benefits have been linked to the presence of animals. Reductions in blood pressure, heart rates, and stress levels, as well as increases in emotional well-being and social interaction are benefits from the human- animal bond “(Jorgenson 1997). Animals become more aware of possible problems and act as caretaker. “Animals can be aware of internal states, and so they can alert individuals of impending seizures [and any other health emergencies]” (Granger).
We accept animals as potential healers and major contributors to our health, happiness, wellness, and vitality. The effectiveness of AAT “has gained wide spread support and application over the past few decades” (Connor 2000). The therapy involves special training for the animals to work with patients. The Delta Society defines Animal Assisted Therapy as a targeted intervention in which an animal complying with specific criteria represents an integral part of the therapeutic process. Animal Assisted Therapy has physical, mental, educational and motivational effects on the participants. From the physical point of view, the therapy improves the fine motoric abilities, the use of the wheel-chair, and the maintenance of equilibrium when standing. ”(Zasloff 1994) Certain animals can improve the development of motor skills that the patient is missing. “In the mental health area, it improves attention, concentration, and self-esteem reduces anxiety and loneliness, improves verbal interaction, and develops recreation and leisure abilities. ”(Zasloff 1994) AAT promotes cognitive development in a patient, which is an important for normal societal function. “Educationally, it improves vocabulary, as ell as long and short term memory. Motivationally, the presence of an animal increases the desire for joining in group and social activities, and improves interaction with others. It is applied both in groups and individually” (Zasloff 1994). The use of various animals is not uncommon in animal-assisted therapy: dogs, cats, birds, horses, dolphins, rabbits, lizards, and other small animals. However, dogs are the most frequently used animals because of their training and sociability skills. “Many times children will tell things to an animal that they feel uncomfortable telling to an adult or therapist” (Bloomquist).
Animals give off a relaxing feeling and allow the child to feel more comfortable and open. The child will be more trustworthy of the animal and can talk about anything without feeling judged. Every human has a story to share, and the animal is just easier to share it with. People in hospitals all share one hope, and that is for a fast recovery through any means necessary. “In some hospitals, canine-visitations are enabled for patients afflicted with chronic diseases, including the participation of medical staff, animal owners and veterinarians” (Lefebvre 2006).
Animal visitation boosts morale in nursing homes, hospitals, psychiatric wards and even prisons. The faces of these people become lit up when the animals comes to visit. Almost instantly the participants forget where they are and the pain they are in. “Dogs and owners are familiarized with hospital rules, which require mandatory documentation on the dogs in terms of vaccinations, and the control of behavior and temperament. Trainers [receive] advice and instruction on how to conduct a therapy group” (Barker 1998). When a dog comes for a visitation, all rules and regulations are set into place to conduct a safe therapy session.
Even though dogs are the preferred animal for hospital visitations, “cats are often used for therapeutic purposes, as are birds. Some authors discovered that group meetings held in premises with caged birds have better patient attendance, more involved participation, and better results compared to the appropriate control group who stayed in premises without birds”(Barker 1998). Bigger animals, like dogs, can be intimidating to patients, so smaller animals are used as alternatives to elevate the amount of people who come to the sessions and participate.
In horse-assisted therapy observations are made on the effects on the neuromuscular system of the patient caused by the mechanical influence of the horse walk. Specific to the horse therapy is that the patient continuously receives impulses from the horse walk, which lead to a relaxed perception of the body, equilibrium, and coordination of movement. “Humans and horses walk very similarly, when a person is sitting on top of a walking horse, the body goes through the same movements as if he/she was walking by him/herself. ” (Beiry 437).
Children with motor skill issues can participate in equestrian therapy to develop an identical walking sensation. The similarity between the two is astonishing. This is particularly significant in motoric deficiencies caused by hereditary lesions, such as cerebral paralysis in children. The very process of fitting the horse with saddle and harness, and acceleration in riding, improve the coordination of arms and shoulders, and sharpen the perception of one’s body and one’s self, which leads to improved strengthening of independence and resolve. All of this leads to better communication in the family, and improved work skills and quality of life “(Yeh 2005). Comparatively, “Hippotherapy has been used successfully with one-sided paralysis and other problems with asymmetry” (Beiry 352) Hippotherapy is another term for equestrian therapy and has worked wonders on patients who suffer through paralysis. “Benefits of Hippotherapy include increase in flexibility, balance, and arm and leg strength. ” (Beiry 352-54). The development progress is one-hundred percent in terms that children and adults developed fine tuned motor skills that were otherwise non-existent.
Development of leg and arm strength is seen in people who participate in Hippotherapy the patient develops the strength and confidence to walk on their own. Equally, “in the presence of a horse, there are other influences on the patient, such as visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile. The warmth of the horse and the touch during grooming act positively on the patient. Such therapeutic meetings are practiced 2 to 3 times per week” (Yeh 2005). It has been observed that during horse riding, the rider experiences a unique interaction with the animal with which he shares a relationship and space.
A communication is therefore established, resulting in gratification and motivation, which in turn alleviates pathologies. In the same fashion, “animal visitation and therapy in critical care helps motivates patients by reminding them that there is life outside the walls to which in time, they’ll return”(Connor 40). AAT allows for people to develop an outgoing/positive outlook on life, despite the fact that they are confined. “Critical care nurses use AAT to relieve patients stress during [procedures]” (Connor 52).
Certain procedures that a patient must endure cause an immense amount of pain, but with the animal there, a patient can focus on the animal and ignore the pain almost completely. In a unique way “AAT reduces anxiety levels of institutionalized patients” (Connor). Institutionalized patients are often if not always in a constant fear, but with an animal present during their therapy session, the patient can relax and worry less. With an animal there patients develop a “willingness to be involved” (Connor). Patients become more eager to participate. They know that participating will allow them to pet the animal.
In turn, patients will develop an eagerness to participate in society. Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, once wrote “A small animal is often an excellent companion for the sick. ” Animals will never leave a person because of a disease or a disability. No matter the situation, an animal will say by your side. “Animals serve to buffer and normalize an aging person’s sense of social isolation” (Journal of Psychology). Never does an animal pass judgment on someone, nor reject someone for being different. Animals only provide unconditional love to all young and old.
Because patients can become lonely, bored in hospitals, so the animal visitations are something to look forward to. “AAT provides patients with entertainment and social interaction” (Abdill 8). Patients can have fun while experiencing the beneficial parts of the therapy. It brings entertainment to people in hospitals, homes, and even prisons. “Animals smooth all kinds of social interactions” (Abdill 79) Patients who go through AAT learn how to interact with other people. The more people who work with an AAT animal, the easier it is to talk to others.
Although AAT has been acknowledged by many medical professionals, some still doubt the validity of Animal Assisted Therapy. Some families tend to stay away from AAT because of the cost. “AAT cost three-thousand to five-thousand dollars” (Baxter). Cost should not be the one thing that prevents a person from partaking in AAT. Most facilities offer free sessions to any person who wants to get involved in AAT. Skeptics will also say that AAT is not an effective form of therapy. “AAT is for a purely recreational purpose” (Baxter) The therapy allows for development in physical and cognitive function.
To further their point, people who oppose the use of AAT mention the danger it brings to the animals as well as the patients. The danger they see with the animals is aimed at DAT or Dolphin Assisted Therapy. “Removing dolphins from the wild results in separation from their families” (Baxter). Also stated is that DAT often results in the “deaths and/or injuries of many dolphins” (Baxter). Experts have acknowledged the separation a dolphin can feel, so they put those dolphins in tanks with other dolphins so they could form their own family. Only a small amount of dolphins die while participating in DAT.
The dolphins are given one-hundred and ten percent of attention and care. Furthermore, AAT employees “[limit] the time an animal is ‘on duty’ and keep the animal safe from accidents and/or aggressive behavior”(Granger 230). Safety of both patient and animal is the top priority during each therapy session. Rules and regulations are set in place for safer sessions and visits that are both fun and productive. In addition, opponents will say that AAT may be “physically hazardous to the body”, and there have been “multiple reports of children injured” (Baxter). On rare occasions children are injured, but at the fault of the AAT supervisors.
Very rarely is the fault placed on the animal. However, “patients and animals participating in these programs require special care in order to avoid transmission of infectious diseases associated with pets, hypersensitivity and accidents during their visits” (Jofre 2005). To prevent accidents, animals are thoroughly screened and tested before being approved for training to become an AAT service animal. There are many different roles an animal plays in someone’s life. A person who is living with a disability can have their day brightened up by the touch of an animal. Animals can become the very thing you need.
They adapt to the persons needs. “Animals can sooth the emotionally distressed and relieve physical pain” (Graham). These service animals can make a person healthier and happier just by being by their side. One will never feel alone when beside and animal; “animals provide a valuable relationship that serves such functions as companionship, tactile stimulation, safety and nonjudgmental emotional support” (Graham 50). “Many individuals will thrive from the positive attention they will receive from a companion animal” (Graham). Individuals feel loved and adored by the animal which in turn makes the person strive to be a better person.
The feeling of pride from an animal can feel a whole in somebody who is empty inside. “Animals are tools for therapy because they can make people feel safe and loved when they have been deprived of social interaction or hurt by other people” (Granger). People who are denied from emotions are more reserved. Animals can bring the trust back to a person who has no real reason to trust anyone. When an animal is brought into a room, the faces of everyone present glows. The benefits of AAT are so great that some believe in animals more than they do doctors. Animals are windows to our souls and they understand people better than some doctors do.
It is as though animals know exactly what people need when they need it most. It is obvious that animals bring so much into the lives of the people who need most. AAT has advanced a great deal in the last years. Beginning in the days of the Romans, people have relied on animals for a number of things such as, farming, transportation, hunting and lastly, companionship. In the twenty first century, people are still relying on animals for mental and physical healing, even though modern medicine has come so far. The medical field has and continues to grow with leaps and yet the four legged furry friend is still needed and wanted above all else.

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