From Florence Nightingale’s statements that patients should take care of animals through Dr. Levinson articles regarding his experiences that spurned research to this day into Animal-Assisted Therapy, patients have reaped the benefits. These benefits are both physiological as it relates to changes in the persons physical condition and psychosocial refers to changes in a person’s mental or emotional condition. Animals have the ability to continue to play an important part in the medical field. What is Animal Assisted Therapy and Does it Work?
While people love their pets this paper considers if animals have a larger therapeutic roll. Looking at the consumer spending on pets alone, one can get a sense of the importance we focus on them. The statistical report is that Americans had spent over $45 billion dollars in 2009 on their pets. Over 60% of U.S. households have pets. (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009, 2010). Clearly pets are important in our lives. These animals can be more than just family pets; with the continued development of animal assisted therapy; they can have key roles in the medical field.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) had been around for many years before it was identified with that name. Starting with Florence Nightingale one can find the use of animals assisting the medical professionals. Nightingale in 1860 noted, “A small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially. A pet bird in a cage is sometimes the only pleasure of an invalid confined for years to the same room. If he can feed and clean the animal himself, he ought always to be encouraged to do so.” (Nightingale, 1898) Another time AAT type therapy was in use for treatment of psychiatric patients in 1919; the Secretary of the Interior advocated that dogs be incorporated in treatment of psychiatric patients (Burch, 1996). The next time that the use of AAT type treatment was documented was in 1943, when it was used by therapists working with recovering veterans (Hooker, Freeman & Stewart, 2002).
Dog therapy made its integration into the mental health field in the early 1960’s. This was when an American child psychiatrist named Boris Levison had his personal dog in his office during a session. The dog served as a conduit in getting the children who were Dr. Levinson patients to communicate with him while interacting with his dog. His writings on the subject initiated other child psychiatrists to put his theories into practices. (Starlifeservices, 2010). The researchers from the 1960’s onwards have continued to evaluate the role of animals in the therapeutic setting; there is still much to study and learn about how and why these types of interventions work for patients. (Levinson & Mallon, 1997)
There are at many different organizations in the U.S. that are training centers for the therapy animals; some large some small. One of the largest groups name is the Delta Society. The Delta Society is extremely well known group that is particular about their interpretation of Animal Assisted Therapy. This stems from an analysis of AAT by Beck and Katcher (1984, as cited in Fine 2006) "a clear distinction should be made between emotional response to animals, that is, their recreational use, and therapy. It should not be concluded that any event that is enjoyed by the patients is a kind of therapy." The Beck and Katcher are of the opinion that you dilute the AAT premise if you include all interaction with animals as actual therapy. More distinction needs to be made between the definition of the animal assisted types of programs and services. Kathleen LaJoie has proposed to make an identification system to coordinate the different types of programs. Part of the Kathleen LaJoie’s findings were that there were twenty different definitions of AAT and twelve terms that related to the idea such as pet therapy, pet psychotherapy, pet-facilitated therapy, pet- facilitated...