I’m so excited for you to have the experience of a therapy dog on your treatment team! Riley is my German Shepherd and will be in many sessions with me for what is technically called animal assisted psychotherapy. One of the biggest benefits to having a therapy animal in the room is a decrease in anxiety and a lifted mood! Riley is very laid back and very intuitive to client’s emotions. She loves to greet you with a wagging tail and sit with you for all the back rubs and head scratches you want to give! She’s also just as happy to snooze at your feet! If you have allergies or prefer for her to not be in a session with you, please be sure and discuss this with me. Riley and I are both trained and certified through Pet Partners National Organization and are also part of the local non-profit, Music City Pet Partners, that also helps other teams become certified and get involved in the therapy dog community. Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of working with a therapy animal and what it’s like to have Riley on your treatment team!
WHAT IS ANIMAL ASSISTED PSYCHOTHERAPY (AAP)?
AAP differs from the more commonly understood animal assisted therapy (AAT) in which volunteer handlers and animals visit facilities such as schools, hospitals or nursing homes. AAT programs are powerful for both the participants and the volunteers, but AAP’s focus on mental health, the depth and complexities of the therapy and the training of clinicians makes it unique. Riley and I do both!
WHY DO YOU USE AN ANIMAL IN THERAPY?
Animals are empathic, nonjudgmental, affectionate and give unconditional positive regard, which enables the client to feel welcome, accepted and comforted in sessions. This atmosphere of emotional safety facilitates the development of a therapeutic bond, encourages rapport and can lead to increased disclosure and openness. Having animals in session is also motivating for clients to both engage in and return to therapy. Sessions with an animal can also be fun and energizing, which may be a welcome change for clients who have previously had unsuccessful therapeutic experiences.
Animal assisted psychotherapy is unique in its ability to combine thinking, feeling and behaving within one intervention. Working with the animals is a hands-on, experiential exercise and clients no longer just talk about their issues but are engaged in activities that elicit honest behaviors and feelings, which can then be processed in the moment.
Animal assisted interventions also present new challenges and opportunities that enable clients to see themselves in a different, positive light. Teaching a dog a new trick encourages problem solving, assertiveness, patience, communication and awareness and regulation of emotions and behaviors. Clients are presented with opportunities that gently push them out of their comfort zone and in return, they gain new skills, self-awareness, a sense of mastery and accomplishment and are able to work on their therapeutic goals in a whole new way.
WHAT IS A SESSION LIKE?
Animal assisted interventions may include simply cuddling or petting an animal; teaching them a new trick or skill; haltering and walking a dog, doing artwork of or with an animal; interacting with them during a yoga session; watching animals interact while discussing body language, non-verbal communication and many other creative activities.
Throughout these interventions, I share Riley’s story with client’s, which allows them to feel a sense of connection to the her. Riley happens to be a rescue animal with a history that causes her to have anxiety and issues she’s had to overcome. This allows clients to connect with her due to similarities in struggles and adversities.
I also provide Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letters for those that need them for airline travel, housing, etc.