Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained companion animals to promote optimal health for mind, body and spirit for people experiencing a wide range of physical and mental challenges.
I have recommended companion animals in part because research has demonstrated they can have a calming effect on people, help reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and can encourage socialization. AAT supports these effects. Unlike animal-assisted activities (such as seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired), AAT emphasizes psychological support and physical healing. One of the most fundamental advantages of animal assisted therapy over other therapeutic modalities is that it provides the patient a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity - rare among medical therapies - that makes AAT a unique and valuable route to healing.
There are many different animals used in AAT, from dogs and cats to horses and even dolphins, and therapy may take place in an institution such as a hospital, nursing home, school or library.
Learn more about animal assisted therapy, including who it can benefit and what to consider before trying it out.