Vol 5 • Issue 1 • Jan 2014

Message from the Director

The Efficacy of Animal Assisted Intervention Therapy Animal assisted intervention (AAI) involves the use of trained animals in facilitating clients’ progress toward therapeutic goals.  A relatively new discipline, AAI relies on the relationship between a therapy animal and the therapist to help clients with a variety of skills including:
• Increase self-awareness
• Accept feedback
• Explore sensitive topics
• Learn replacement behaviors
At Grafton, Animal Assisted Interventionist, Elaine Johnson,  partners with her therapy dogs to create a safe therapeutic milieu for structured time between a dog and the client(s) as the strong relationship of trust  between the dog and handler is paramount to client and program success.

Elaine reports, “Clients can work individually learning to build healthy relationships with the dog and me or the dog can serve as a catalyst to help two clients learn to build an effective and positive relationship with each other. In either case, a sense of mastery is developed and clients receive real, in the moment, feedback from the dog on their behavior. This provides enlightenment on the reactions they receive in everyday life from people for the same behavior.  Sessions may be directive and focus on building and enhancing a skill set or they may be non-directive, play-based and mainly client led. One of my main roles is to observe and reflect on how the client is interacting with the dog and present feedback about how the client is coming across.”



Research has suggested that an animal can serve as a clinical bridge in psychotherapy, providing access to more sensitive issues. Clients feel safe within the presence of the therapy dog and utilize this forum to perhaps discuss issues that they may not typically share in traditional psychotherapy.

Group sessions with two or more clients provide an ideal environment to explore and improve cooperation, teamwork, and focus towards a common goal.  A number of factors are considered in pairing a specific dog with a client’s unique needs.  Although the client’s specific need guides the process, the personality of the dog, as well as the personality and unique needs of the client is considered when developing the plan.  A client who is working on increasing his assertiveness skills, for example, may be paired with a therapy dog that is quiet and biddable.  This pairing requires the client to practice skills to gain recognition and validation as a result, to enhance skills that are less developed.   Another client who displays explosive and unpredictable behaviors in the residential setting receives animal assisted interventions to empower him and develop a more defined sense of internal control.  This intervention may require a more confident and extroverted therapy dog.

Although, we believe that the majority of children can benefit from AAI, the increased demand for this service and the insufficient funding available has resulted in the creation of an assessment to determine the value or referral for this service.  The clinical team developed an animal assisted therapy assessment/referral form that incorporates things such as early childhood trauma, history of animal abuse, attachment issues, current clinical presentation and adaptive behaviors.   A final component for the assessment includes the client’s response to AAI interventions.

At Grafton, the Animal Assisted Interventionist works with other professionals such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, and other clinicians within the transdisciplinary teams to improve a client’s functional autonomy and achieve positive clinical outcomes.
Highlights

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