Animal Assisted Intervention: A Special Therapy

Thousands of years ago, Animals have accompanied human beings throughout history playing different roles that have facilitated our survival and well-being.

Domestication put certain species at our service, adapting to the needs of human beings, however, the emotional and physical well-being of the animal has not been taken into account. Luckily, in recent years, the process of human evolution has gone hand in hand with awareness, education and respect for animals.

Although it is true that in Spain there is still much to do in terms of education and traditions that do not involve animal pain and suffering, we are pleased that there are more and more training initiatives that provide real knowledge about the animal to provide a more adequate life for its animal. ethology. The new generations come with the desire to do well and it seems that empathy with living beings makes its way.

But why introduce our scope of work with a paragraph on animal welfare? Because, as psychologists, if we want to focus on working with emotions and human well-being and we want an animal as a facilitator and companionour tool must be well cared for and balanced since it is also an emotional being like us.

    Animal Assisted Intervention

    But, let us start at the beginning: an Animal Assisted Intervention (AIA) It is a formula in which an animal is intentionally included or incorporated with the aim of promoting improvement in the areas of health, education and social matters in order to obtain therapeutic benefits in human beings.

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    Yes, as you read, they are therapies or interventions, although I do not intend to enter into the debate of the typical intrusion that psychologists suffer in all our disciplines; IAA are another focus of malpractice where we find professionals with profiles far from the socio-health-educational field carrying out “Animal Assisted Therapies”.

    Being a poorly regulated area and still with many legal loopholes to consider it a psychological and/or therapeutic technique It is true that we are increasingly welcomed by public academic bodies. Since October 2015, thanks to the International University of Andalusia (UNIA) and the University of Jaén, the Official Master’s Degree in IAA has been launched in order to regulate the profession. Furthermore, in Madrid, through the Rey Juan Carlos University, the need to instill and raise awareness of values ​​of respect and care for animals from an early age is being brought closer to all audiences (Chair of Animals and Society – Office of Animal Assisted Interventions ).

      The origins of this strategy

      Focusing on our profession, The introduction of dogs in consultations has its beginnings with the renowned Dr. Sigmund Freud whom his dog Jofi supported during his psychotherapy sessions. It was not until 1953 that Dr. Borris Levinson began to lay out the foundations of Animal Assisted Therapy thanks to his dog Jingles, a motivating companion and facilitator of the bond between patient and professional.

      With these precursors and within a wide range of experiences and scientific studies, we find how IAA brings benefits at a comprehensive level: reduction in stress, reduction in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a decrease in feelings of loneliness and abandonment, increase of social interaction and stable socio-emotional functioning.

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        The benefits of animal therapies

        Although this area usually focuses more on working with children and people with some type of alteration in any of the areas mentioned above, We are all candidates to benefit from what animals give us.

        And what types of specific benefits do they bring us then? For example, petting an animal helps reduce blood pressure and, therefore, creates a state of relaxation, while playing or walking with it favors the practice of physical activity, associated with the creation of habits and routines associated with our occupational needs. From an emotional point of view, the animal encourages and improves both communication and social skills and, in turn, enhances positive emotions and self-esteem.

        It is important to keep in mind that the effectiveness of an animal treatment does not depend on the animal but on the values, knowledge and skills of the psychologist to introduce this technique in the most effective way. There is a tendency to place a lot of responsibility on the animal and to seek a multipurpose tool that adapts to the specific needs of each patient and this is an important bias that we are observing in students and professionals who carry out IAA.

        The fundamental role of the animal is to facilitate and motivate, thus providing different stimuli that enrich and complement the interaction between professional and patient. The animal will participate in the sessions within a well-being protocol that takes into account its emotions and, above all, its stress. Taking the world of horses and equine therapy as an examplethe effort is to put riding aside and promote “foot-to-ground” work that allows us to get to know the animal from its ethology and learn about its communication.

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          Without a doubt, animals can become great teachers who teach us to look deep inside ourselves, they are a mirror, a radar that informs us through their non-verbal language when we are not being clear or coherent.

          The reaction of animals helps us observe ourselves better, to evaluate our use of communication and its effectiveness. The responsibility cannot be passed on to them; if something does not work in our interaction with them, the need will be to become aware of what we are asking of them and, above all, how we are asking it.

          In this way, effectiveness involves finding the best version to offer to others and even to ourselves. And that is precisely the main objective of animal-assisted interventions: to improve the quality of life of patients with the help of those who can bring out our most natural and emotional side.