Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: A Case Report -- Animal-Assisted Therapy

Janet Eggiman, BSN, MSN


October 12, 2006

In This Article

Certification for AAT

Delta Society is an international organization that certifies and registers pets that provide AAT. Their mission is to improve human health through service and therapy animals. They state: "Our vision is a world in which people are healthier and happier because companion, therapy, and service animals share our everyday lives.[7]" Delta Society is a nonprofit organization that unites people who have mental and physical disabilities and patients in healthcare facilities with professionally trained animals to help improve their health.

It is recommended by Delta Society that dogs used for AAT demonstrate obedience by completing a training and testing program. Certification with Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International requires the dog and handler to pass a basic obedience class, Canine Good Citizen test, and Therapy Dog test, all certified by the American Kennel Club. The handler must agree to follow the standards of Delta Society and maintain health and vaccination records yearly.

Delta Society's formal definition of AAT is as follows: "AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise and within the scope of practice of his/her profession.[7]" The important aspect of this is that AAT aids in improvements in patients' physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. They interpret cognitive functioning to mean thinking and intellectual skills. They report that this can be delivered in group or individual settings. They state that the requirements of AAT include specific goals and objectives and that the process and progress are measured and documented.[7]

Delta Society further distinguishes between AAA and AAT. They believe that the word "activity" indicates greater participation. Their description of AAA is as follows: "AAA provides opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer in association with animals that meet specific criteria.[7]"

In an article on AAT, Chandler offers some examples of AAA:

teaching the animal something new, engage in play with the animal and other types of appropriate interactions, learn about and practice care, grooming and feeding of the animal, and receive appropriate affection and acceptance with the animal, discuss how the animal may feel in certain situations, and learn gentle ways to handle animals. [8]

Chandler added that AAT is not necessarily a style of therapy, but can be integrated with theories, such as CBT and rational emotive therapy. In regard to the dynamics of the positive impact, she also believes that animals can facilitate trust and relationship building in therapy. For some individuals, talking to an animal can be easier than revealing thoughts and intimate feelings directly to a therapist, especially if the problem or issue is difficult to talk about. While the human therapist "listens in," the communication with the animal is often perceived as "private." The animal can be seen as a friend who provides unconditional acceptance and caring.[8]

Like Chandler, I have found that children find it easier to talk to Kotter and will tell him their "secrets" while I simply listen. Often I have observed an immediate change in mood when depressed patients encounter the dog. One patient said, as the dog approached, "He knows I'm sad today; that's why he came to me!" Kotter, like Freud's Jo-Fi, seems to "understand" when individuals are sad or closed in. Even if a patient is withdrawn and appears to not accept the presence of Kotter, he can be quite persistent just by remaining quiet and calm in the session, lying at the feet of the patient.


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