Animal-assisted Therapy (AAT) involves using animals to assist people with emotional and physiological problems. The focus of psychotherapy is to develop a strong bond between patients and animals and to help them recover. Studies show reduced levels of blood pressure among participants and animals once the bond grows. The interactions help patients recover as the therapeutic relationship progresses. Experts emphasize on using animals because animals can be important sources of companionship, security and affection. People seeking help respond well to the idea of looking after another animal – to nurture it and help it grow. In the process, the participant learns to take care of himself, grow and feel empowered.

Why incorporate animal-assisted therapy

Studies show that people who like and relate well to animals can benefit from animal-assisted therapy. A study conducted on cancer patients showed reduced levels of pain and increased amount of positive emotions in the presence of an animal. Research conducted on a substance abuse patient showed that the participant felt more positive emotions in the presence of a dog. Positive emotions can have beneficial effects on treatment outcomes and may prevent relapse. Therapeutic intervention could prevent the patient from engaging in self-destructive behaviors when there is an animal to provide comfort and relief from negative emotions.

Animals are effective for therapeutic intervention because they help the patient calm down and feel more joyful. It has helped participants fell comfortable and progress in therapeutic alliances. Companionship with an animal activated oxcytocin, the neurochemical which is responsible for feelings of happiness and reducing cortisol, high blood pressure and stress levels.

Dogs and horses are the most common animals used in therapy. Working with dogs has helped patients improve communication skills, solve problems, relate well to others, reduces feeling of depression or anxiety, improve concentration and develop a more positive attitude towards life. Working with horses helps people improve dysfunctional and other interpersonal relationships, moderate their behavior to adjust to the moods and attitudes of the horse, build trust in relationships and develop healthy relationships.  For those who have experienced traumatizing life experiences, working with animals can help them feel empowered and comfortable.

Physical and psychological benefits of AAT include:

  • Reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, anger and aggression
  • Reduction in self-destructive behaviors
  • Improved interpersonal relationships
  • Improved positive emotions
  • Reduced feelings of hostility towards others
  • Feelings of confidence and empowerment

Assisted Animal Therapy

Participants feel happier and less hostile after animal therapeutic interventions because animals are a source of comfort and they are non-judgmental, which easily allows patients to warm up. Animal therapy is effective for people of all ages and for reducing the severity of symptoms. Therapeutic intervention generates positive emotions as participants feel they are being attended to or heard without harsh feedback or judgment.

They type of animal used in therapy depends on the preferences and needs of the patient. Besides dogs and horses, other animals such as, dolphins, fish, birds and hamsters may be used in therapy. Participants are given several options of animals to choose from, including the locations they prefer for therapy.

For more information regarding emotional support animals or to determine if you would qualify to have your pet as an emotional support animal please visit or call 414-807-8934