This paper – co-authored by Erin Flynn, Jaci Gandenberger, Megan Mueller and Kevin Morris – has been published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.
The abstract says:
“Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are increasingly used as a complementary therapy in clinical practice. Initial research evidence suggests that animals can be an excellent adjunctive option for youth with significant challenges and those who may have low engagement in traditional therapy.
AAIs delivered within a positive youth development framework are conceptualized as mutually influential relationships between humans, non-human-animals, and the broader environment to support human health and wellness. During childhood and adolescence, AAIs support major developmental processes. For example, AAIs may help youth to have reduced aggression and depression; increased attention; and strengthened social skills, self-regulation, and motivation.
To understand how these interventions work in clinically-complex populations, it is important to understand the perspective of clinicians who have a broad view on each client’s mental health and the processes involved in youth outcomes. Semi-structured interviews were completed with 23 clinicians at a special education school that utilizes a range of AAIs including individual and group animal-assisted therapy (AAT) with farm animals, dogs, horses, and wildlife. A qualitative phenomenological approach was used to analyze the interviews.
Five overarching themes were identified that described positive impacts and challenges experienced by students during AAT. These included youth opportunities for contribution, sense of safety, support for self-regulation, increased engagement, and facilitation of youth relationships with clinicians and others. Clinician perspectives will inform development and implementation of future therapeutic interventions that incorporate animals as an adjunct to evidence-based psychotherapy and inform quantitative measurement approaches …”
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