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HomeHEALTHAnimal-assisted therapy - a form of psychological treatment

Animal-assisted therapy – a form of psychological treatment

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Animal-assisted therapy

As the name suggests, animal-assisted therapy refers to a form of therapy where animals assist a patient to recover from mental or physical ailments.

How does it work?

The process involves both the animal as well as its owner. The owner and the animal both have to go through several certifications to be qualified for therapy. The animal goes through certain checks, like a temperament check to see if they can behave properly with both their owner and other people. A physical check is also conducted to make sure that the animal is free of disease.

Animal-assisted therapy is known to reduce stress and create an overall balance for mood as well. The concept of this therapy is based on the bond between humans and animals, where the bond has eased the patient into a calm state. Usually, the choice of an animal depends from person to person and depending on its function. Animal-assisted therapy is a significantly proven catalyst for psychological treatment but it should never be administered alone as a replacement for treatment. Therapy animals are different from service dogs and do not have similar permits to service dogs. For example, a therapy dog cannot accompany an individual into any business establishment

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Animal-assisted therapy Benefits

Animal-assisted therapy can help people in a lot of ways like:-

1. Mental Health

  • Reduce pain and anxiety
  • Reduce feelings of stress and worry.
  • Help become a source of social support.
  • Aid the patient in becoming more motivated and focused to engage in activities.

There are loads of studies that have been conducted on the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy. Several studies have reported that this form of therapy is effective in facilitating the treatment of anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and more. Some researchers have studied how horses and dogs could help when it comes to animal-assisted therapy and it has been found that the two animals can help alleviate symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

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2. Physical Health

  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Improving cardiovascular health of a person
  • Helping with diseases like epilepsy, heart failure, cancer, and dental treatment, recovery from heart stroke, etc.

Working with an animal in such cases can often help the patient boost motivation to take part in the treatment and reduce pain. In the physical sense, it can also help them get exercise as they can walk the animal.

Animal-assisted therapy – Risks involved

One of the biggest concerns, especially in hospitals is safety and sanitation. Other than that, animals also might suffer injury and /or abuse if they are handled inappropriately. As helpful as it might be, animal-assisted therapy is not meant for everyone as some people might be allergic to animals. For those people, the pet can do more harm than good. Some people are simply just uncomfortable with or afraid of animals and in such cases, the patient’s stress level would increase. On the other hand, some people can get more attached to the animal, and letting go could cause stress and anxiety

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Animal-assisted therapy is not a substitute for regular treatment. The main aim of such a therapy is to facilitate or assist with the course of treatment for the patient, as much as possible. Animal-assisted therapy can help anyone, regardless of their age. Still if in doubt, you can always check in with your therapists about suitable treatments. These therapies include regular sessions with highly trained professionals who can handle animals. If faced with any issues, some alternative therapies are available too.

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Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Currently head of Department of Holistic Medicine & Wellness at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh is a mental wellness expert with expertise in relationship, lifestyle & stress management. The founder and director of The Mind and Wellness Studio Dr. Rachna Khanna has worked with leading hospitals like Fortis Escorts, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital. Her specialties include stress management, lifestyle management for heart diseases, supportive care for chronically ill patients, work-life balance, parent-child bonding, cancer support care, ante/postnatal care, relationship counselling, pre-marital & marital counselling, adolescent counselling, psychiatric & psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety, insomnia.


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