Because of the recent press about the amazing benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy more and more therapists are bringing their dogs to work. Is this Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animal Assisted Therapy involves a trained counselor or therapist working with a trained animal in a goal-directed way within that therapists’ area of expertise. The therapist should be trained in conducting Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and ideally have completed a training and/or Certification program as well. While there are no state or national standards to call oneself an “Animal Assisted Therapist” it is considered an area of specialty. As part of their training a therapist learns how to integrate the animal(s) safely and effectively into the therapeutic process. The safety of both the client and the animal must be monitored and considered at all times; during AAT the animal is working – this can be tiring and stressful for any animal. This is why most trained AAT clincians work only with animals that have also “chosen” this work and can manage the workload and client population. Also the clinicians have clear guidelines for the interactions with their animals as well as a safe space for the animal(s) to retreat when stressed or tired.
Having a dog or other animal in the office can be wonderfully calming. However true Animal Assisted Therapy provides experiences with the animals that extend beyond simply petting the animal. If you work with a dog in therapy, it is important to ask: does this dog enjoy being here? Is the therapist knowlegeable enough to be able to monitor and manage not only the client’s stress but also the dogs? When the answers are yes – it can be a very beneficial process for all involved!
Dr. Linda Chassman is the Founder and Executive Director of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado (AATPC) which provides counseling to clients of all ages at their therapeutic ranch in Lakewood, CO with the assistance of their rescued and re-homed dogs, cats, horses, goats, rabbits, and rats. AATPC also has a training program for mental health clinicians interested in providing AAT to their clients.