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What is Animal Assisted Therapy (A.A.T)

Animal Assisted Therapy improves peoples mental, physical, social and emotional functioning with the aid of animals. Depending on the needs of the patient, many different animals can be used in therapy, including horses (also called equine-assisted therapy), rabbits, sheep, goats and other animals.

Animal-assisted therapy takes place in a variety of settings, including prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and mental health facilities. This form of therapy can take place individually or in groups, and is led by a qualified AAT therapist with specialised expertise. Much more than simply spending time with an animal, animal-assisted therapy can involve specific therapeutic goals, strategies and outcomes measures. These can be set by children’s outside services alongside us and K.S. Therapeutic experiences can include walking, brushing, petting and caring for an animal, as well as processing the experience of trying to achieve a given task.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY?

There is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting, non-threatening and non-judgemental, making it easier for people to open up. Some of the benefits of animal-assisted therapy include:

• Improved fine motor skills • Improved balance • Increased focus and attention • Increased self-esteem and ability to care for oneself • Reduced anxiety, grief and isolation • Reduced blood pressure, depression, and risk of heart attack or stroke • Improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic programme or group activity • Increased trust, empathy and teamwork • Greater self-control • Enhanced problem-solving skills • Reduced need for medication • Improved social skills


Because many children, teens and adults enjoy working with animals, animal assisted therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in talk therapy.

WHAT CONDITIONS/DISORDERS DOES ANIMAL-ASSISTED THERAPY TREAT?

People with a variety of conditions can benefit from animal-assisted therapy, including: Autism spectrum disorders • PTS • ADHD • PDA • Dementia • Developmental disorders • mental health related issues • Emotional and behavioural disorders • Chronic pain and many more.

HOW CAN A.A.T HELP?

• self-esteem • self-confidence • anger management • anxiety disorders • poor concentration • social communication • social interaction • emotional expression • boundaries and limitations • trust • group cohesion and dynamics


Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy has been found to be particularly effective with children, pre-teens and teenagers. It’s also especially effective with children who have witnessed family violence and have responded with depression, suicidal feelings, anxiety, anger, withdrawal, and escape mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol use.

This type of therapy does not involve riding horses as is traditional therapeutic riding for the disabled. Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy uses the different tasks of caring for the horse and the bonds that are formed through that process to establish trust, respect, and responsibility. The rural type of environment where the therapy takes place often has a calming effect on the client so that anxiety abates and the ability to think clearly increases. This therapy has improved confidence and self-esteem because once a patient has earned the horse’s trust, the horse will become unconditionally attached and loyal. Without the fear of being judged, or having to meet unreasonable expectations, biases, or motivations, a child can relax and begin to express his or her true feelings. This process leads a child towards a greater sense of self-identity, which goes a long way to fostering an innate self-confidence and functionality in other social situations.

When a group of children work together who have emotional or behavioural issues, they learn ways to communicate with each other and with the horses, which promotes self-esteem, body-confidence, and physical awareness. People with extreme anxiety will learn effective relaxation techniques, and patients dealing with abusive relationships will learn how to be both assertive and trusting as they work with an animal much stronger or larger than they are. Children with out-of-control behaviour problems will learn how to solve problems and control frustration by leading and directing the pony in activities that involve the person on the ground. These children will also gain significant self-confidence by achieving their goals.

A horse responds to a person’s actions and emotional state, so a patient must become self-aware to effectively work with the horse. In order to care for a horse, good communication skills with the therapist and the horse are necessary. Anger issues must also be confronted because manifestations of anger will result in a horse that refuses to cooperate. A person will have to develop other methods of dealing with aggression and anger to obtain the horse’s cooperation and trust. A patient who is fearful or especially anxious will also have difficulty getting a horse to cooperate, but the process of grooming, feeding, applying head collars, etc. are usually effective in helping a child achieve a calmer, more confident state of mind and build trust.

The increase in confidence and self-esteem that is achieved through Animal Assisted Therapy will also increase a desire to interact socially, while the skills used to effectively work with an animal are transferred to other areas of their life. Working with an animal aids the person in dealing with others because it helps teach how to form meaningful bonds and relationships. Forming a bond with an animal can be very rewarding and empowering for a person; the trust that both animal and person must have for each other and the loyalty the animal responds with teaches what qualities are best in any type of relationship. The fact that person can see a direct connection between action and reaction also helps foster trust and gives the patients a greater feeling of control in this and other situations.

The experience of bonding a horse is unique and empowering. To be able lead and instruct such a powerful animal and control what happens installs great confidence, while the learning process increases the ability of an individual to connect on a personal level with both horse and therapist. Additionally, horses (and all animals, including humans) can be unpredictable when they are under stress or scared or spooked by something a person cannot even see, and this creates situations where a patient must learn how to respond, how to confront their fears, and how to make adjustments in their own behaviour to handle sudden changes.

Animal Assisted Therapy is a form of therapy that patients tend to associate with having fun, and they usually look forward to these sessions. The therapy is removed from many of the negative ideas and emotions which surround the therapy process and the therapist, so it becomes easier for the therapist to gain the patient’s trust and respect, which makes the therapy much more effective much quicker and to achieve results.

A.A.T FOR TROUBLED TEENS

Anyone who has had a teen knows that sometimes it’s difficult to carry on a two-way conversation with one. Even the most well-adjusted teen will often answer questions avoiding meaningful conversations about feelings and issues-at least with adults.

This behaviour is believed to be because teens haven’t yet learned to express complex and confusing thoughts and feelings in a clear way. And many of their issues have to do with real or perceived conflicts with family members, especially parents, making it all the more difficult to express themselves without becoming overly emotional.

For troubled teens, this difficulty with communication is intensified. This is one reason that traditional “talk therapy” with a troubled teen isn’t always effective, particularly if the teen doesn’t care to talk.

Animal assisted therapy is a form of therapeutic intervention in which animals are used to assist the therapist. Animal assisted therapy recognises the bond that quickly develops between human and animal, and the potential for client interaction with an animal to help with emotional healing and growth.

Not only can the therapist get important clues about a teen’s interaction patterns with family members and friends by observing interaction with the animal, but this observation can also be used to help the teen to understand their own behaviour and to practice healthier behaviours in a safe setting.

When attention is focused upon a challenging task, such as haltering a horse or grooming an animal, the sense of purpose in the activity offers great opportunity to develop and practice skills such as self-control, decision making, and communication. It is also an opportunity to build self-confidence and trust.

A kind of magic happens when a desperately unhappy child or young person is brought to interact with the animals. A change of environment, especially from an urban area to open, natural surroundings, filled with fresh air and flooded with nature, can have an uplifting and calming effect, and with time, a troubled person can begin to let go of a lot of pent-up, negative emotions.

When teenagers first arrive at an animal programme, they are often withdrawn and angry. Their relationships have been negative – but the relationship they will experience with an animal will be completely different from any other. Horses and other animals are completely honest in their encounters, and for many teens this will be the first interaction they have ever had in which they can honestly be themselves and not be judged.

Equine-Assisted Therapy is a therapy used as horses are naturally social animals with personalities, attitudes, fears, and moods, and they are very sensitive to the energy around them. They will respond appropriately to human interaction, allowing teens to experience a sense of connection and participation without the negative feelings sometimes associated with traditional therapy and services. Horses and teenagers are seeking the same feelings of trust and connection, and once a child realises this similarity, he or she is able to form a connection that is uplifting and inspiring. Horses are able to teach teenagers about themselves and their interaction with others around them.

A horse will react with fear to any expression of anger, bullying, or frustration, functioning as a mirror in which a teen can immediately see the effect of their emotions and attitudes. Horses have no guile or deceit – they respond negatively to negative emotions, positively to positive emotions. They do not respond to bullying, yelling, or aggression, and this forces teens to find other ways of communication. Because horses are non-judgemental, do not have an agenda, and are always honest, it is much easier for teenagers to let down their guard and their own dysfunctional behaviours. When teenagers work with horses, they are able to gain insight into their emotions and behaviour and have a non-threatening opportunity to immediately find a more productive, positive way of interacting.

Each time a teenager learns another skill, his or her self-confidence and trust increases. Teens learn how to control and redirect their anger because they have a stake in the outcome – they do not want to upset or hurt a horse they have come to care about! The intrinsic innocence of the horse reinforces the need for teenagers to identify other ways to express their emotions to achieve positive, productive results. When a teenager encounters a horse’s behaviour that confuses them, they must learn how to put themselves in another’s place and try to figure out what the horse is experiencing – and then find the most efficient way to proceed.

Horses are very powerful animals, and they can be unpredictable and intimidating. Approaching, interacting, and working with a horse forces a person to confront any fear and insecurities they may have. Teens will learn how to keep their fear under control, how to remain calm, and how to move forward with positive feelings despite any underlying lack of confidence. They will also discover the exhilaration of horseback handling, especially if fear has prevented participation in physical activities in the past. The ability to remain calm and complete a task regardless of self-doubt and fear is an extremely empowering experience. Once a teenager gains insight into how to effectively work with a horse, he or she will become the leader. This causes the horse to feel a sense of safety and trust, and it allows the teenager to experience their abilities and potential. Teenagers will discover a significant sense of self-esteem as they continue to work and communicate in harmony with the horse.

Learning how to care for a horse increases the bond between the person and horse. The more consistent the teenager is, the more attentive and cooperative the horse becomes. In this way, teenagers learn life skills, such as effective and positive communication, trust, and how to control their anger and frustration.

The kind of relationship humans have with horses is calming and often healing. Teenagers become engaged in this unique interaction, and it brings them out of their inner cycle of negative thoughts. Working with horses may be the first time for some teens that they have ever experienced an emotionally powerful bond of affection and loyalty that is unconditional. People learn how to be responsible – and how being responsible can make a person feel good. Experiencing this kind of unique, inter-species bond can have a life-changing effect.

Animal Assisted Therapy is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigs, sheep and goats, into the therapy plan. It is used to enhance and complement the benefits of traditional therapy. When it's used, A.A.T can be a useful intervention for individuals or groups. We have found that A.A.T produces positive outcomes and overall improved emotional well-being in those with autism, medical conditions, behavioural issues and the elderly within a care setting.

The activities are very person led. You and your therapist may discuss your animal while you are working with it, or you may set aside another time to talk about your experiences. If you are in a hospital, school, nursing home, rehabilitation centre, or another type of community centre, you may not have a relationship with a therapist when you arrive but we are friendly and approachable and the animals are there for you to interact with so a calm effect is soon established.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

Animals can provide a sense of calm, comfort, or safety and divert attention away from a stressful situation and toward one that provides pleasure. Advocates of A.A.T say that developing a bond with an animal can help people develop a better sense of self-worth and trust, stabilise their emotions, and improve their communication, self-regulation, and socialisation skills. We use various animal assisted programmes and offer different animals for people with different physical and emotional needs.

The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response and endorphins. Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods. This can lower anxiety and helps people relax. Animals provide comfort and reduce loneliness within a care setting too.

Animals can trigger and assist in recall of memories and help sequence temporal events in patients with head injuries or chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Animals lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. Breathing slows in those who are anxious. It releases many hormones such as Phenylethylamine which has the same effect as chocolate. Participants are generally more motivated, enjoy the therapy sessions more, and feel that the atmosphere of the session was less stressful during A.A.T.

For Children with autism, many feel a deep bond with animals and feel that they are able to relate better than with humans. Children with autism were engaged in significantly greater use of language as well as social interaction with their therapy sessions which incorporated animals compared to standard therapy sessions without them. Children will start to communicate with the animals and feel a sense of calm and relaxation. We work with children with autism and the results are remarkable.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us and we will try our best to answer your questions. We are not Psychologists, Social workers, Occupational Therapists etc. We are trained in Animal Assisted Therapy and all of our staff are DBS checked. We have come from a background of working with children and young adults in various sectors including SEN and Mental Health. As a company, our ethos is experience with being compassionate, empathetic and to be able to listen and understand each person as an individual. We are all experienced with handling animals and their welfare is of upmost importance to us. We are happy to advise on which other sectors may be able to help your child further or work with any sector they are currently attending.