Therapy or therapeutic?
Most of the contact that inpatients have with animals could be described as ‘therapeutic’. Or simply pleasurable and highly beneficial! (For a quick recap see Why section.) Or, as Nic Higham (our Inpatient Care Project Manager who has worked on wards) puts it:
Some fortunate patients are able to benefit from a more structured and goal-oriented relationship with animals through Animal Assisted Therapy. My support dog, Buddy, used to come to all my therapy sessions, but she snored her way through these and was usually not the focus of conversation. But let’s say I was very reluctant to take part in therapy, a gentler and more indirect approach to tackling painful emotional issues could have been for the therapist to guide the conversation around Buddy. It could be as low-key as simply talking about how Buddy is doing, how my illness is affecting her and our relationship etc. Having started to trust the therapist, I might then have been more open to branching out to emotional issues. Again, these could be indirectly addressed by reflecting on Buddy’s feelings, experiences, comforters etc.
So in Animal Assisted Therapy, the animal is the bridge between the therapist and patient, and this role can be carried out by a dog, cat or even fish. The wider the range of feelings and experiences the animal has, the easier it can be for the patient to identify these and with these.
In an excellent article about Animal Assisted Therapy in occupational therapy practice, the author lists common goals of pet therapy including:
- The facilitation of communication and social interactions
- To facilitate the expression of feelings
- To brighten mood and affect and lessen anxiety
- To help to explore grief and loss issues
- To help to improve reality orientation
- To help to improve the ability to cooperate
- To increase the ability to trust
- To help learn appropriate forms of touch
- To help to improve self-esteem and self worth
- To provide an opportunity to show affection
In practice, the boundaries between what is therapeutic and what is therapy can be blurred. The extensive and wonderful animal therapy programme at Scotland’s high secure State Hospital describes the range of intensity and structure particularly well. Here’s an excerpt but it is really worth reading their full, movingly illustrated, account and advice.