If you’re having a ruff day, don’t terrier self up about it. There’s sure to be a pawsitive outcome.
Ok, but really…….
Incorporating animals into therapy has amazing research-supported results including (but not limited to):
· Rapport with the counselor
· Empathy and nurturing skills
· Outward focus and positivity
· Emotional regulation
· Tolerance of pain/shame/guilt
· Ego Strength
· Opportunities for insight
Working with an animal in-session affords the opportunity to reflect on the client’s interaction patterns. For example, does the client trust the dog immediately and run to hug the dog? Or stiffen when the dog tries to lick him? This provides insight into relating patterns, boundary issues, and/or insecurities not just with animals, but in general. It is a real-time opportunity to explore those in action and generate insight that may not naturally occur otherwise.
I see a number of children within my practice and a major goal of mine throughout our time together is to work on empathy-building. Incorporating a therapy animal allows me to model positive interpersonal behavior. Children (and adults) watch how the therapist interacts and cares for the therapy animal as a model. Demonstrating love in front of the client can produce a powerful corrective emotional experience, especially if he/she has a trauma and/or abuse history. Using the trauma narratives of rescue animals can also give clients hope for change.
The above examples demonstrate the use of a therapy animal as a bridge for insight and reflection, but there are also more hands-on techniques. Interventions such as bilateral stimulation can be used between the client and animal to help regulate the sympathetic nervous system in-session. They can then practice this at home with their own pets. The ultimate goal is to find ways for such skills to transfer outside the therapy room.
My goal is to incorporate animal-assisted interventions into my practice within the next year or so. In the meantime, sharing and practicing techniques with clients is something I am excited for. If you are interested in animal-assisted therapy or think it might be a purrr-fect fit for you ; ) reach out!!