Healing Connection: Animals increasingly used in therapy

Oct 7, 2014

Rena Malai, News staff

Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud was known to have his dogs present during client sessions, and an animal’s soothing presence has long been noted for therapeutic properties, says Ellen Winston, co-founder of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado.

Mike Gooch’s daughter, Audie, stands with Moon, a horse at Home on the Range, a therapeutic equine program in North Dakota.

“An animal present provides a social lubricant,” Winston says. “It’s a neutral topic to discuss, especially for children and adolescents.”

Animal therapy can mean two different things, she says. There is the volunteer type of animal therapy where individuals bring their pets into various settings — like hospitals and schools — to lift people’s spirits. The other type is focused on social workers, counselors and therapists who include animals to aid a therapy session. She adds that a variety of animals can be beneficial, including goats, rabbits, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and even rats. But dogs and horses are the most common animals incorporated into therapy.

“These animals can mirror what someone is going through internally and the social worker can learn more about their client this way, and (by) watching the interaction, than just through talking,” Winston says. “And it’s a lot more fun to be outside, or even inside, grooming a horse and playing with a dog.”

According to social worker Pam Dudek, who works with clients at Maryland Therapeutic Riding Center, animals like horses meet people where they are — just like social workers are trained to do.

“Working in these settings provides a great complement to what we as social workers already do,” she says.

From the October 2014 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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