Animal-Assisted Therapy Provides Benefit to Many People Who Struggle

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are increasingly used to boost the benefits traditional psychotherapy and counseling. People from diverse backgrounds and facing a wide range of physical, emotional, and psychological struggles have found not only comfort, but also growth and healing through animal-assisted psychotherapy. The premise is simple: the bond between humans and animals reaches beyond words, and an animal’s presence can offer a powerful level of comfort and companionship that is unconditional and runs very deep.

In many cases, patients find a therapist or counselor suggesting that they bring a pet into their home. For people dealing with depression, loneliness and grief, a cat or dog provides comfort, affection, and companionship that help lift the spirit and make one feel less alone in the world. For people overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, the time spent petting or playing with a pet can help regain a sense of calm and can interject much-needed lighthearted moments into a situation that may otherwise feel overwhelming. For people whose mental health issues have become in some way debilitating, the responsibility and consistency of having an animal around can help establish routine. For those who feel lonely or socially anxious, taking a dog on a walk can be an avenue toward getting to know the neighbors.

There are also times when a psychotherapist will recommend animal-assisted therapy, not just pet ownership, for a very specific condition. For example, it is not uncommon for a therapist to suggest equine-assisted therapy for a client who has survived trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, combat, or a major disaster. Horses can be skittish and it make take awhile to earn one’s trust. In this way, trauma survivors can slowly learn to trust the horse—and themselves—while overcoming the upsetting aftermath of the traumatic experience. One of the newest potential uses for animal-assisted therapy is to help children who have been neglected learn to establish healthy bonds with other people.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Roxanne


    October 10th, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    There are so many days and so many ways that my pets make me feel needed and loved- that has to be a real boost to someone who is suffereing with mental health issues and depression too. Pets do not judge, they just need a little of your time and energy and they will be loyal to you forever. There are so many wonderful potential pets in need of good homes and a purpose who are currently in shelters- maybe this therapy can be two fold in terms of benefits- help those who need to boost how they are feeling as well as help getting some of these pets into much needed homes. Wonderful idea and glad to hear that it is being put to such perfect use.

  • J Miller

    J Miller

    October 10th, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    I believe domestic ferrets are beneficial in therapy. More specifically in depressed patients and those learning how to trust again and to receive real love. I own ferrets and one simply cannot be depressed with these little guys around. This is only for adults and older children who understand how to treat animals.

  • Robyn


    October 11th, 2010 at 4:47 AM

    Have definitely seen the benefits of pet therapy with the kids I work with- they really can make a difference.

  • cathy


    October 11th, 2010 at 7:13 AM

    I had a nasty breakup a year ago and nothing seemed like it could help me get over the very ugly feeling that seemed to take over my entire life.that’s when my then-new pet dog came to the rescue and really really helped me get over it.

  • Jon n Garfield

    Jon n Garfield

    October 11th, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    I enjoy the company of each of the many pets I have and they are great friends on any given day. Also I have seen many differently-abled people having a good time with their pets. Animals’ love is without any conditions and they are more loyal than humans if you ask me!

  • Hannah


    October 12th, 2010 at 12:35 AM

    Another proof of therapy dog power on my cousin whose been couple of years of trauma on a vehicular accident. Though she’s not one of the most injured, trauma keeps her away from roads but when they adopted a border collie whose been training to be a therapy dog, he helped her conquer the fear slowly and effectively.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on