Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that uses animals to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Advocates state that animals can be useful for educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. Pets provide fun and relaxation not only for people in institutions but also for treatment resistant individuals including families suffering a high-conflict divorce, a group with marked resistance to change.
In AAT, a therapist who works with an attorney uses a pet viewed as being unthreatening and conducive to rapport between patient and therapist. Animals used in therapy include domesticated pets, farm animals and marine mammals (such as dolphins). Research has shown that families who can be resistant to formal therapy may be more accessible by an experiential mode of treatment. Equine and animal assisted therapy allows for a metaphorical presentation of material in a less threatening interactive manner.
Some believe that human attachment to, and interest in, animals stems from the strong possibility that human survival depended on signals from animals in the environment indicating safety or danger. This biophilia hypothesis suggests that when patients see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, it signals safety, security and feelings of well being that in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible.
Animals can be used in a variety of settings. Assistance dogs can assist people with many different disabilities; they are capable of assisting certain life activities and help the individuals navigate outside of the home.
As with all other interventions, assessing whether a program is effective as far as its outcomes are concerned is easier when the goals are clear and are able to be specified. The literature review identified a range of goals for animal assisted therapy programs relevant to children and young people. They include enhanced capacity to form positive relationships with others in pet ownership. The research literature suggests poor quality of medical evidence underpinning AAT.