Exploring the therapeutic opportunities, challenges and psychological mechanisms of integrating dogs into psychological therapies with adults

Charlotte Bolt, Jennifer Heath, Duncan Moss

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Abstract

The therapeutic benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) are well-documented and AAT research often involves dogs. Despite growing research into the therapeutic value of therapy dogs' visitation within health and psychiatric contexts, research specifically into the integration of dogs into psychological therapies is limited. Current Dog Assisted Psychological Therapy (DAPT) research is novel and limited. DAPT research predominantly focuses on therapist perspectives and use quantitative or case study methodologies. Research into adults' experience of DAPT is limited. Therefore, this research explored the experiences of adults receiving DAPT, who self-identified as experiencing mental health difficulties. Specific aims were to gain a broad insight into the experienced opportunities, challenges and factors impacting participants' experience of therapy, to help inform the clinical implications of DAPT. Qualitative methodology was used by conducting semi-structured interviews with six participants sharing their experiences of DAPT. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) enabled exploration of important issues regarding participants' experiences. Five themes emerged: 1) Relationship with dog(s); 2) Providing a safe therapeutic atmosphere; 3) Distraction; 4) Facilitating personal insights; and 5) Concern for the dog's wellbeing. Relationships between the themes are illustrated, and the theoretical relevance to psychological models and clinical applications are discussed. This research demonstrated that, where clinically and ethically appropriate, DAPT can provide therapeutic opportunities to facilitate psychological therapies. The therapist's skills in managing interactions and potential distraction, the client's prior experiences of dogs and the dog's wellbeing are all important considerations to manage some of the identified challenges within DAPT. Further research is needed to inform practice guidelines, specifically in terms of which psychological models and patient groups DAPT might be best suited to, and further exploration of DAPT practice within different clinical and cultural populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101564
Number of pages10
JournalComplementary Therapies in Clinical Practice
Volume47
Early online date23 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022

Keywords

  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Canine-assisted therapy
  • Clinical psychology
  • Psychotherapy

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