Animal Assisted Therapy – what is it and how does it work?
Animal Assisted Therapy is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of animal assisted therapy is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning.
Does Animal Assisted Therapy work?
For those of us who agree that animal assisted therapy is the way to go in helping certain groups with therapy will be happy to learn that the majority of published studies have reported that animals make great therapists.
Maggie O’Haire of Purdue University, reviewed clinical trials on the effects of animal assisted therapy on children suffering from autism spectrum disorders. The results were impressive and all the studies found that animal assisted therapy was effective.
Other researchers have found similar patterns of results in their examination of animal assisted therapy studies. Neuroscientist Lori Marino, the executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, found that 26 of 28 AAT studies published between 2005 and 2011 reported positive outcomes in patients undergoing animal therapy. This is great news for us. But there were…
Unfortunately to all these great results there is a downside. Most of the studies were flawed when compared to the strict rules of research studies that must be adhered to. Some of these problems included:-
Lack of a non-treatment control group.
Insufficient numbers of subjects.
No controls for effects of novel experiences (e.g., swimming with dolphins).
No written manual spelling out the treatment procedures (important for standardization and replication).
No use of “blind observations” to control for unconscious bias on the part of the researchers.
Reliance on self-reports rather than objective measures.
Lack of long-term follow-up studies.
Putting a positive spin on negative results (e.g., “While interacting with the therapy dogs did not actually decrease the patients’ symptoms, the participants reported that they enjoyed interacting with the animals.”).
Cherry picking (only presenting the results for variables that worked).
Fortunately today with more funding given to the research of animal assisted therapy research is showing more conclusive results on the effects of animal assisted therapy. There is still much to be done and we still don’t conclusively know if animal assisted therapy is the way to go.