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    What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

    There’s nothing I love more than discussing the joys and challenges of animal-assisted therapy (except actually doing it!) I recently presented at the Pennsylvania Counseling Association’s annual conference, educating my fellow counselors on how to effectively bring a dog into their practice. I quickly realized that before we could start the seminar, my audience needed a crash-course on the definition of AAT.

    So what, exactly, is animal-assisted therapy (AAT)?

    Animal-Assisted Therapy is a counseling technique that involves the intentional, therapeutic inclusion of trained animals. Interventions are specific to each client and could include petting, grooming, walking, teaching tricks, and playing with an animal. Or you may just find yourself sitting quietly with a snoozing dog, enjoying a mindfulness moment. The important part is the “processing” with the therapist.

    It’s not enough to just relax with a snuggly puppy. The client must also spend time with a therapist. Clients will have the opportunity to explore their thoughts and feelings on the experience in order to learn more about themselves. From role-playing “what would Benji say about me?” to grounding techniques to “trying on” his unconditional love, there are lots of therapeutic techniques enhanced by well-trained pup. A knowledgeable therapist can guide you through these techniques.

    We know AAT is an effective treatment for lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety. We know AAT can improve emotional well-being. And we can observe the physiological changes in our bodies (decreased blood pressure, increased oxytocin levels, etc.) when humans interact with doggos. But there is still a lot of research and education needed for this unusual specialty. I stay up-to-date on the latest findings about AAT and the human-animal bond. Subscribe to my blog if you’d like to stay up-to-date too!