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Deer Valley Counseling

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the use of animals such as dogs, cats or birds to help with the therapeutic process. This can range from animals visiting nursing homes or hospitals to using animals during counseling as an integral part of the treatment process.

Several nonprofit organizations promote AAT, including the Delta Society, Therapet, and Rainbow AAT. In general, these organizations require a temperament test for the animal and training for the owner. In addition, the animal must be healthy and current on all its vaccinations. The owner can then take the animal to participating hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics and other facilities where the animal interacts with the patients in a fairly unstructured way. Benefits to the patients are diverse and include fostering a sense of normalcy which may be otherwise lacking in the institutional setting, providing needed physical contact with another living creature, stimulating pleasant memories in elderly patients, and in general generating relaxation and calm as well as a touch of healthy excitement.

You can read more at this Psychology Today article.

Some counselors use AAT in a much more structured fashion, with a treatment plan that calls for a specific role for the animal in the therapeutic process. Phil Arkow provides resources for this approach. Many researchers are interested in questions concerning the efficacy of AAT and the parameters under which it is most effective. Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Meta-Analysis by Janelle Nimer and Brad Lundahl is one place to start for those interested in this kind of research.

At Deer Valley Counseling, our therapy animals, through their native personality and training, greatly enhance the therapeutic process. We strive to make the Deer Valley Counseling office a warm, comfortable place for our clients to address their issues and the therapy animals contribute significantly to that goal. In individual counseling, they help all clients relax, and are particularly helpful to clients who are depressed or anxious. In group settings, they contribute to the cohesion and relaxation of the group, enhancing the group dynamic and promoting interaction between the group members, some of whom start out suspicious and guarded, but, partly influenced by the therapy animal, learn that the group is not a hostile environment and that they share something in common with the other group members—a fascination with a playful, friendly, animal.

Over the years, Deer Valley Counseling has had many therapy animals.