Animal-assisted therapy can be a powerful tool in individual or family therapy. Research has shown positive effects of animal-assisted therapy in many populations, including sexual abuse (Reichert, 1998), PTSD (Lefkowitz, et al., 2005), serious illnesses/death (Raveis, Mesagno, Karus, Gorey 1993), and changes and life transitions (Allen, 1995).
Trauma/ Sexual Abuse (Reichert, 1998)
Many children who have experienced trauma are intimidated by seeking help and struggle engaging in the therapeutic progress. Children see animals as non-judgmental and as a result it enhances their self-esteem, and makes it easier for the child to express themselves (Reichert, 1998). Reichert (1998) found that animals help children disclose abuse and share feelings.
PTSD (Lefkowitz, et al., 2005))
Animals can decrease anxiety and stress, promote social interactions, and provide comfort for the client (Lefkowitz, et al., 2005).
Serious Illnesses/Death (Raveis, Mesagno, Karus, Gorey 1993))
Animals give children an outlet to discuss their feelings about parental loss, when they are not ready to discuss their feelings with a human (Raveis et al., 1993). Animals assisted in healthy adaption to parents’ illness and/or death, by providing unconditional love when a child is in need of love, affection and support (Raveis et al., 1993).
Changes and Life Transitions (Allen, 1995))
Evidence has shown that the companionship of an animal provides for increased relaxation and reduces arousal in adults and children in stressful times (Raveis et al., 1993).
Prout, M., Debiak, D., Bleiberg, J., (2005). Animal-assisted prolong exposure: A treatment for survivors of sexual assault suffering posttraumatic stress disorder. Society and Animals, 13, 275-295.
Reichert, E. (1998). Individual counseling for sexually abused children. A role for animals and storytelling. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 15, 177-185.
Raveis, V., Mesagno, F., Karus, D., Gorey, E. (1993). Pet ownership as a protective factor supporting the emotional well-being of cancer patients and their family members. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Department of Social Work.
Siegel., J. (1993). Companion Animals: In Sickness and in Health. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 157-167.
Allen, K. (1995). Coping with life changes and transitions: The role of pet. Interactions. 13, 5-6, 8-10.
At The Child and Family Therapy Center of Denver, therapist Kelly Curnalia utilizes therapy dogs, Indy and Ollie. Animal-assisted therapy is available upon request.