Animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, is the use of trained animals for treatment. Through AAT, a person can develop skills to help manage physical, cognitive, and/or emotional limitations. The setting and use of AAT may vary, such as hospital rehabilitation programs, mental health group therapy, or children’s speech therapy.
AAT is a treatment process designed to achieve optimal healing and goal-oriented activities. Many people find comfort, safety and security around animals. Using animals as a source of support can help a person feel more open and participate in the treatment process. Dogs, cats, and horses are some of the most commonly used animals in AAT treatment. Other animals that are less frequently involved in the AAT process include rabbits, birds, and dolphins.
How animal-assisted therapy can help treat anxiety
Psychotherapy is one of the most common treatment options for panic disorder. Through psychotherapy, a person can explore past problems, overcome negative thinking, cultivate healthier behaviors, and better control their symptoms. Although psychotherapy is helpful, there are still barriers to getting panic disorder help that AAT may be able to break through.
Many people find it difficult to open up to the therapist, but communication is an important aspect of the treatment process. By using AAT, a person may be able to more easily build rapport and trust with their therapist. Group therapy can also be enhanced by AAT to help members feel comfortable in socializing and self-expression in a group environment.
Animals can help a person feel safer when sharing personal stories, and can even serve as a calming distraction when they feel difficult emotions during treatment.
AAT can also help deal with common problems of panic patients, such as improving low self-esteem, reducing depression symptoms and eliminating loneliness. Research shows that AAT can help people with mental health conditions grow and recover. AAT may help reduce stress and anxiety, and create a relaxing and supportive treatment environment.
Where to find animal assisted treatment services
The AAT animals and professionals who provide these services are more than just bringing pets into treatment courses. Instead, they need to receive comprehensive AAT training. The certification program provides specific training standards for animals and their handlers. For example, the processor needs to be able to recognize when the animal becomes distressed. Training will also ensure that animals have the most appropriate temperament, health and obedience needed to function in AAT.
Information about training and experts in providing animal-assisted therapy services can be found online through service catalogs such as Pet Partners and Therapet. Practitioners who use animal-assisted therapy for mental health services must be qualified mental health experts and work within their professional scope. AAT can be used as part of a treatment plan along with more traditional treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy and panic disorder medications.
Some people may choose to adopt their own specially trained dog to help manage their condition. These animals are officially called service dogs and are not considered “pets” because they are specially trained to help people with disabilities. If panic disorder and/or agoraphobia severely reduce a person’s quality of life, then a service dog may be an option. Service dogs may be able to help cope with panic attacks, reduce anxiety, and increase the sense of security when leaving home.