Zara Casañ is a general health psychologist, COPV 11,598; Master in Psychology, Health and Quality and Life and Master in Autism and Psychoeducational Intervention. He has more than 12 years of experience in the area of teaching and mental health in the adult and child-adolescent population in Spain and the United Kingdom.
Although animal-assisted therapy has existed for decades, it has been in recent years that there has been an “explosion” of these types of interventions. What exactly is Animal Assisted Therapy?
That’s right, and not just for a few decades; The interaction of human beings with the rest of animal species goes back millions of years, but it is, above all, in the middle of the 20th century when zootherapy began to become popular, and we have evidence that already in the 16th century in England Among the aristocracy, the company of dogs was already recommended as a treatment for sick people.
Animal Assisted Therapies (AAT) are mainly based on the incorporation of an animal in a therapeutic environment as the main resource, previously and carefully selected and with all hygienic-sanitary measures, in order to improve physical and cognitive conditions and functions. , motivational or emotional with the person or people with whom you are undergoing a specific treatment, without prejudice to being able to implement this type of therapy at all times with others, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), systemic therapy, Gestalt, Art therapy or psychodynamic therapy among others.
What types of animals are the most appropriate for it?
Although dogs are the first animals that traditionally come to mind in relation to Animal Assisted Therapies, or also horses (equine therapy), donkeys, small rodents and some birds are other species that we can count on and today Felinotherapy or cat-assisted therapy is being increasingly taken into account, which is the project I am trying to carry out in Valencia (Spain)
Focusing on the interventions themselves, in which treatments is animal-assisted therapy used the most?
It should be mentioned, first of all, that this type of therapy requires specialized training and must always be carried out by professionals in the health or education area.
They are mainly in contexts of special education, especially the area of the autism spectrum, which is where this type of therapy is most used, as well as in nursing homes, mainly in users with some type of dementia and also in prisons.
What exactly does an animal contribute to these therapies?
The benefits that contributes an animal or several depending on the context in these therapies are multiple. One of the most proven examples in various studies carried out in recent decades is the reduction of stress and anxiety, as well as the improvement in cases of major depression. In turn, the patient treated with TAA is able to increase his self-esteem and many times an improvement in the socio-family integration is perceived.
Other benefits that are perceived in clinical practice and in studies at various universities is that people treated through TAA increase their self-confidence due to the responsibility involved in caring for the animal.
At the cognitive level, it has been proven that it increases the levels of attention and concentration in patients at any age, and, as physical benefits, we would have a reduction in heart rate as well as a reduction in blood pressure, among other improvements.
In the field of Felinotherapy, which is where we are most specialized, throughout all this time we have seen very positive changes in people with some type of physical, mental or sensory disability, as well as we have also noticed improvement in patients with some type of emotional disorder.
We have also seen significant effectiveness, although usually in the medium and long term, in people with Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD) and in various behavioral disorders in both adults and children and adolescents, as well as in mood disorders.