Animal Assisted therapy has been around since 1961 and was first written and studied about by child psychologist, Dr. Boris Levinson. Back then, faced with the glaring reality of much needed juvenile psychological treatment; Dr. B. Levinson stated, “A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Friendship retains its traditional values and securities in one’s relationship with one’s pet. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend — regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”
With the use of animals, therapists acknowledge the intrinsic abilities of animals to support and aid in therapeutic theories. Observations that were seen in patients who have interacted with ‘furry therapists’ often resulted in changes in demeanor, physical appearance and physiological adjustments. These results have given people a peek into the therapy that animals may provide. Regardless of age, race or status, patients have seen benefits in their quality of life including physical, mental, educational and motivational areas.
Physical benefits that await patients undergoing AAT have improved on their motor skills, both in Gross motor skills and Fine motor skills. Gross motor skill is the development of movement by strengthening the large muscles. While the Fine motor skills involve the improvement in the use of the small muscles (i.e. holding objects or hand-eye coordination). Patients learning how to manipulate a wheelchair for the first time, show a remarkable improvement after sessions with their “furry therapists”. Animal therapists provide the strength for patients to improve on their motor skills and give the necessary assurance that the pet will be there as support.
Patients also benefit from AAT mentally. Improvements are seen and recorded for patients with forms of depression, autism and other minor mental digressions. In one on one sessions or group sessions, a remarkable increase in verbal interaction is often noted as soon as a pet therapy assistant is brought in. Patients are not as reluctant to answer, talk, make eye contact and share their feelings. From this trickle of improvement, increase is imminent with continued sessions. In the long run, therapists have experienced increase of attention skills, recreational participation and improved self-esteem. Through the help of “furry therapists”, a remarkable decrease in anxiety and loneliness is noted in patients who participate in AAT programs.
AAT pet therapists are also beneficial for the education of children having a difficult time in class. Educational benefits are seen in children having retention or memorization problems or even speaking problems. They often show an improvement through exercises involving the animals.
Considering the different benefits recorded and noted in case studies, a general benefit among the patients is the benefit of motivation. Once to have undergone therapy via AAT, patients have a sense of worth, responsibility and participation in group activities and a better concept on how to handle stress. Science theories, studies and cases aside, pet animals have been long needed by humans. All people have bouts of loneliness, insecurity and self-loathing. For those with pets, being able to bounce back once they have had a silent moment just petting their dog fur or cuddle their cats is a common occurrence. Just having a silent partner that sees you at your lowest point and still loves you unconditionally gives you a lift in your day.
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