Animal-Assisted Interventions

What are animal-assisted interventions?

The relationships between men and animals have always been varied and growing. Throughout history, humans have used them as a means of work, food, protection, and more recently as a source of research, or a guide for people with disabilities (Serpell, 2000).

At present, advances in medicine and cooperation with other areas of knowledge have led to the development of new therapeutic approaches with the participation of animals, such as so-called zootherapy programs. They consist of a psychoeducational therapeutic methodology that includes an animal assistance technique, functioning as a powerful stimulus.

Specifically, Animal Assisted Intervention (IAA) is defined as an alternative, interdisciplinary therapy, in which objectives aimed at improving people’s quality of life are set. The person-animal bond is used as part of the therapeutic process, to create an environment rich in stimuli which not only allows lowering cortisol levels or lowering blood pressure in those with high levels of stress or anxiety but also provides greatly increased motivation to participate in the social environment and encourages attention and concentration in the immediate environment.

This type of intervention allows working from a more playful perspective those pathologies that affect both physical and mental health. The animals, as long as they have been properly selected and trained, serve as a link between the therapist and the user, who naturally maintain contact, without the person being fully aware of the treatment they are receiving.

We must also bear in mind that animal-assisted interventions are non-invasive treatments that complement other methods but do not replace them. It is a way of making the person enjoy the activity while developing skills in various areas: motor, behavioral, cognitive, socialization, etc. The more pleasant the therapy is for the patient, the better effects it will have and the faster the pre-established goals will be achieved.

However, it is important to note that the animal itself is not a therapist, nor is it curative. It will be the professional who, through his company, will use his abilities to exert direct influence, either physical or emotional, on the user, adapting to his needs, and establishing guidelines aimed at personal improvement.

It should not be forgotten that with this type of therapy the objectives that are set in the sessions are very similar to those that would be programmed in a consultation. The difference lies in the methodology and the resources used, which can be variable thanks to the educational environment and the presence of the animals, favoring a good motivation and predisposition, with which we can capture the user’s attention, influencing the psychological processes basic for learning.