What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?
Animal Assisted Therapy is a unique form of therapy that utilises the unconditional relationship qualities of animals, to enrich therapeutic experiences. AAT is delivered in Human-Canine therapy teams; who work in synchrony to enhance the child’s social, emotional, and cognitive functioning during the therapeutic process.
Where did Animal Assisted Therapy come from?
Humans and canines share a unique relationship that dates back to the ‘cave man’ era; achieving a prominent status in history – working together as hunters, gatherers, transport, protection and warmth. This was how canines became “man’s best friend”.
In the modern world, this human-canine team can be seen working together in war zones, bomb/ drug detection operations, security, service for the special needs (ie: guide dogs, therapy dogs, companion dogs), and in specialised educational programs.
It has become widely accepted that humans and animals share a special connection; the Human-Animal bond (HAB). It’s that elusive feeling that makes us feel happy and whole, when we’re feeling sad and broken; or wanted and seen, when we feel unwanted and invisible. It’s this HAB that warrants its use in therapy with kids and adults.
Animal Assisted Therapy and Children
Animals are naturally a part of a child’s world. Children are surrounded by animals from an early age (e.g. room decor, cartoons, clothes, toys, books etc).
When witnessed, the child-animal bond is something pure. A child’s bond with animals teaches empathy and compassion- as well as a host of other skills such as; fine motor, gross motor, sensory regulation, emotional regulation, and social skills to name a few!
Most canines are playful, accepting, social, present, and honest. These qualities are naturally inviting for children – particularly those who have been impacted by trauma, or mental/emotional barriers.
AAT provides therapeutic opportunities for these kids to experience unconditional, positive, and accepting relationships that may not have been able to be achieved with human-human interactions.
How does Animal Assisted Therapy Work?
AAT is an experiential form of therapy facilitated by Human-Canine therapy teams. AAT harnesses the relational qualities of animals to project or reflect the child’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings through carefully planned activities.
For example: A dog may choose not to participate in an activity the child has in mind. This action can elicit various reactions and emotions, such as rejection, which provides valuable information to how the child perceives their world.
The journey to healing and self-awareness begins when these experiences are carefully explored within a safe therapeutic environment. The learning that arises is child-led, personal, and creates awareness from which future learning and growth can occur.
Who can benefit from Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?
AAT is generally used in conjunction with traditional therapeutic modalities. As long as there isn’t serious phobias or allergies to dogs, almost anyone can engage in AAT.
At Kids Compass, AAT is used to complement Occupational Therapy and Play Therapy interventions. However, for the safety and benefit of your child and our therapy teams, clients will be assessed and AAT will be determined based on suitability.
There are times when:
- Children are emotionally overwhelmed about their own specific challenges (e.g. handwriting and fine motor skills, making friends, taking directions, regulation, trauma etc), which can inhibit their willingness to explore these areas with traditional therapeutic approaches. In these cases, AAT may be used as a pre-cursor (warm up) to Occupational Therapy and Play Therapy interventions.
- Children may have a history of abuse towards animals. In these cases, AAT may not be suitable, or additional skills will need to be acquired using other therapeutic modalities, before AAT can be introduced.
Animal Assisted Therapy Training
Kids Compass is proud to be part of the first cohort to offer Animal Assisted Play Therapy™ (AAPT) in Australia.
Both Krystal and Magick have undergone extensive training in understanding canine communication, positive canine training methods, and working therapeutically as a team in play therapy sessions with children. Krystal and Magick completed their Level 1 & 2 training with the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy™, under the guidance of renowned positive dog trainers and play therapy professionals from the United States and UK.
AAPT training is unique as it centres its focus heavily on relationships – where the relationship between therapist and animal must be developed in positive, mutually respectful ways, that honours the voice and choice of the animal whenever possible.
Credentialing is stringent and is only awarded upon demonstrated competence of the therapist over a requisite length amount of time. This is to ensure the highest quality practice of AAPT is achieved and that the humane treatment of the animals involved are maintained.
Krystal’s training, started at least 12-months before Magick was born and is now 2-years into the process. Working in close collaboration with Magick’s breeders and a team of trainers, Krystal tries to provide the best possible supports needed to continue growing as a successful human-canine therapy team.
Therapy for Children At Kids Compass
Kids Compass strives to help children find their way to their fullest potential. We provide child-centered services that enable children to embrace their unique qualities and BE the best versions of themselves. Please contact us for a confidential chat about how we may be able to help your child.