How does animal assistance therapy work?
Animal assistance therapy (AAT), is where your counsellor will have an animal, often their own pet, within the environment of the counselling session. This is often a dog, and sometimes a horse in the event of equine facilitated psychotherapy (EFT), but can also involve other exotic animals such as snakes! That is not to say though that your counsellor will suddenly produce a dog or even snake unexpectedly within a session, as a discussion should always take place about how this method of working may be of benefit to you
I work with my dog ‘Angel’, who is an 11-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Dogs, and particularly Staffordshire Bull Terriers, have very high levels of empathy with humans, and this is a quality that Counsellors strive to adopt within their work. Empathy is one of the ‘core conditions’ of counselling, the other being unconditional positive regard, and the ability to be non-judgemental. These 3 qualities are ones which dogs are natural facilitators of, which makes them a valuable asset within the counselling room……. Angel will never judge you if you happen not to be wearing the latest designer trainers for example!
Other benefits of AAT are that some people, for many different reasons, often have difficulty in building relationships with other people, but can relate well to animals. Having an animal in the counselling room can, therefore, enable a client to feel more at ease, and explore their feelings in relation to others, alongside the consideration to how the animal would perhaps cope with such difficulties themselves.
Animals have so much they can teach, us, and can offer unlimited inspiration for helping us cope with our own difficulties in life. Perhaps being ‘more dog’ would help us appreciate the simpler things in life, such as a warm dry bed, food in our tummies, and someone to love.
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About Linda Harris
Linda Harris MSc. Reg. MBACP is an integrative therapist in private practice in Northamptonshire.