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What Does an Animal Assisted Therapy Session Look Like?

by Kimi

Animal assisted therapy uses animals like cats and dogs to provide therapeutic benefits to people struggling with mental and emotional health issues. Therapists combine it with other techniques like supportive counseling and psychotherapy for effective treatment. Your therapist can determine whether it’s suitable for your situation. Learn what animal therapy is and what to expect from a typical session.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animals bring out positive emotions in people, like happiness and calmness. Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses animals, mostly dogs, to supplement traditional treatments and help people cope with mental health problems. As you bond with the animal, you may notice mood, attitude, and behavior changes. You may experience better moods, reduced anxiety and stress, enhanced social skills, better self-esteem, reduced anger episodes, and more companionship to make you less lonely. AAT can help individuals deal with grief, depression, addiction, autism, fear, and other mental health disorders. A qualified therapist evaluates your condition and decides whether animal therapy can help.

What to Expect from an Animal Therapy Session

Every AAT session is different, depending on a person’s goals and the therapist’s approach. You’ll visit a facility with trained animals and an animal handler. From there, your therapist will guide you through activities with the animal. Here’s what you can expect from the session:

A Consultation with Your Therapist

The first step is a consultation with the therapist to discuss your situation and goals. This helps them create an individualized treatment plan that incorporates animal therapy. Since AAT is never a stand-alone therapy, they may start with supportive counseling to evaluate your condition, its triggers, and how it affects your life. They can then suggest changes that may improve your situation. Be honest and open with your therapist to maximize the therapy’s effectiveness. As you proceed, they’ll assess your progress and make necessary changes.

Meeting the Animal Handler and Animal

After the consultation, the next step is getting introduced to the animal and its handler. You’ll learn the animal’s and its owner’s name for a better connection. Some people may be worried about safety, but any animal participating in this therapy must first receive proper training. That helps create a safe and comfortable environment where you can bond with the animal. The owner may also provide tips on interacting with the animal for maximum benefits. Since they know the cat or dog best, they can help you get the most out of the experience.

Participating in Animal Therapy Activities

When you’re ready, you can proceed to interact with the animal. These activities may include petting, feeding, cuddling, grooming, or playing with animals. The therapist will supervise and provide a supportive environment as you participate in the activities. The goal is to encourage positive emotions, relaxation, and calmness. Depending on the therapist’s approach, it may also help you develop social skills like communication and empathy. As these activities continue, you may notice positive changes in your behavior.

Therapist Observation

Animal assisted therapy is a process, not an event. Your therapist will observe and evaluate how you respond as you interact with the animal. They’ll note down what they see, whether it’s changes in your attitude or behavior, as well as any challenges you may be experiencing. This gives them insight into your progress and helps them adjust the therapy plan accordingly. The animal interaction lasts about 10 to 15 minutes but can be shorter or longer, depending on your needs.

Closure and Reflection

The session is not complete until you discuss your experience with the therapist. You’ll talk about how you felt while interacting with the cat or dog and how it makes you feel afterward. This helps your therapist understand the therapy’s effectiveness in addressing your mental health problems. The therapist may provide feedback and suggest strategies to apply the lessons learned in everyday life. If you have any questions or concerns, you can also discuss them with the therapist.

Consider Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal assisted therapy is a unique, positive way to improve mental and emotional health. It uses trained animals to provide therapeutic benefits, including better moods and reduced loneliness. Your therapist will determine if it suits you and guide you through the session. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, consider talking to your therapist about animal therapy. It might be the solution you need to take charge of your mental health and well-being.

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