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Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy

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Published by Anca Oana
The effect of animal assisted therapy in counselling.
The effect of animal assisted therapy in counselling.

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Published by: Anca Oana on Jan 24, 2013
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03/28/2014

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Elderly clients may have special needs that must be considered when engaging in
AAT-C. Many seniors may not see or hear as well as they used to, thus when coun-
seling someone with sensory disability you must explain right away that a therapy

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animal is present and the role and purpose of the animal. Otherwise, if the animal is
not expected by the client and cannot be seen or heard, contact or interaction with
the animal may startle the client. A visually impaired client who wishes to touch or
pet a therapy animal may need assistance. Always receive permission before touch-
ing a client, but having received such permission you might need to take the hand of
a visually impaired client and guide it to the pet. An elderly client may not be agile
and may even be in a wheelchair, so reaching down or over to pet a therapy animal
may be physically difficult. A small pet may be placed in the lap of elderly clients
with their permission. If you will be placing a therapy pet in a client’s lap, you might
first want to place on the lap a clean towel or cushion the pet is familiar with to mini-
mize the amount of fur that gets onto the client’s clothing. A thick foam cushion is
usually best because it is light and also firm enough to provide a soft yet sturdy plat-
form for the small pet to keep it from sliding between the client’s legs or off the side
of the client’s lap. A medium-sized therapy animal like my Cocker Spaniels, Rusty
andDolly, is too big for a client’s lap but too small to be reached from the floor.
Amedium-sized therapy animal can be placed on a couch with a client and sit or lie
next to the client or may be placed in a steady chair next to the client so it is easier
for the client to reach the pet. Make sure the chair that you place the therapy animal
in does not have wheels, or if it does have wheels, hang on tightly to the chair and
keep it steady for the animal’s safety. Usually, large therapy animals, like large dogs,
can still be easily reached even when they are sitting on the floor. I highly discour-
age placing a large dog on a couch or bed with any client since the weight of the dog
may injure the client. Dementia is common in older seniors, thus extra supervision
may be required to insure the safety of a therapy animal around a client with demen-
tia. Dementia clients prone to aggression should probably not be considered for
AAT. Memory impairment from dementia or aging memory processes is common in
older seniors. Thus, the counselor may have to reintroduce himself or herself and
the therapy animal many times when counseling this population.
The presence of a therapy pet in the therapy room may serve as a source of
comfort for the elderly client who may wish to pet the therapy animal. The presence
of a therapy animal in a room with an elderly client may be effective in enhancing
the client’s focus and attention during a counseling session and encourage the client
to be more expressive. There are also some animal assisted structured interven-
tions that may be helpful for an elderly client. Walking, petting, grooming, and inter-
active play with the therapy animal can be performed during a counseling session to
help stimulate physical and neurological pathways of the client. The animal’s pres-
ence may encourage the elderly client to recall personal life stories about previous
pets. Life story telling has the therapeutic benefits of enhancing an elderly client’s
mood and reinforcing a sense of self-worth. Sharing photographs of the therapist’s
pets with an elderly client may also encourage the client to tell life stories. Many eld-
erly no longer have opportunities to provide something meaningful to others, and
this can be damaging to their self-worth. Thus, an elderly client may want to give
something to the therapy animal to make the therapy animal feel good. Provide
healthy treats for the client to share with your therapy pet. Also, offer a soft groom-
ing brush that is easy for the client to grip and brush the animal. Describe for the cli-
ent the animal’s favorite spots to be petted or massaged. Clients get a real kick out of
watching Dolly’s head roll way over to one side and her eyes droop closed when
they scratch under her collar. She is in “doggy heaven” when you do this for her.
Likewise, Rusty considers anyone who rubs the tops of his ears a best friend for life.

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He will lean his head heavily into your hand, close his eyes, and make repeated deep
sighs of pleasure. Dolly’s and Rusty’s obvious reactions of appreciation inevitably
elicit a smile or laugh in a client. The ability to do something meaningful for some-
one else reinforces in the client that they still have positive value.

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