Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Animals-Therapeutic use, Trust


This study explored the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in formal therapy practice, its unexpected outcomes, and examples of its use as a novel intervention. This study explored the clinicians' perceptions of AAT as it is practiced in the field today, their examples of novel and/or unexpected benefits, and their thoughts on the future of the field. This study utilized interviews of nine animal assisted therapists, who had higher education in the areas of social work, psychiatry, or psychology, as well as at least six months of experience practicing AAT. The findings showed AAT was found to be a useful intervention across almost all populations and treatment needs. Clients were excluded from AAT if the clients expressed an aversion or lack of interest, if the therapist thought there might be resistance by the family, or if there was a trauma history related to animals that contraindicated its use. The findings also showed that the presence of an animal sometimes provided an immediate catalyst for a therapeutic breakthrough, and this was often how clinicians who happened upon AAT by chance discovered its novel use. In addition, the study found that clients who had problems trusting other humans could benefit more from AAT as a supplement to therapy, than therapy without AAT. AAT was often crucial to helping the therapist access the client's psyche, as the animal provided a stable and trusting relationship. Finally, this study found that the field of AAT is in need of consistent and nationally applied curriculum, and most likely a requirement of certification so as to protect the therapist, the animal co-therapist, and the client. However, the lack of standardized requirements and curriculum around practice is a reflection of the fact that AAT is still not widely accepted as a formal intervention. While some social work and psychology programs now include AAT in the curriculum, it is still not recognized as a specialty by the field at large. Many of the participants felt that it should be treated as such, and that such recognition was necessary to creating consistency in formal education and practice.




iii, 59 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, 2014. Includes bibliographical references (pages 46-50)

Limited Access until August 2019