Animal assisted therapy or AAT is a special kind of therapy that is provided with the help of well trained animals. This type of treatment aims to enhance a patient’s mental, social, emotional and cognitive senses.
The individuals who participate in Animal assisted therapy sessions receive motivation and education from the trained animals. Research is being conducted for effectively utilizing AAT for improving the overall wellness of patients. In the following, necessary information regarding this particular therapy has been discussed.
Understanding what is Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT
Animal Assisted Therapy is viewed as a goal driven intervention by American Humane Society. In this special type of clinical health care treatment animals play a major role in restoring the sense of well being in patients. Only trained animals take part in the systematic healing procedure of physically or mentally ill patients.
Animals have the power to make a patient or a depressed individual feel better both socially and emotionally. As a result they gain their self-esteem back and get relieved from their mental anxieties. The origin of Animal Assisted Therapy can be traced back to 1940 when an army corporal had brought his terrier to the hospital for cheering up the wounded soldiers and comforting them.
How does Animal Assisted Therapy help kids?
Animal assisted therapy has been helping kids who have suffered from severe abuse and cancer patients going through chemotherapy in regaining their zest for life. The children who belong to a broken family or who are estranged from their parents for one reason or another tend to feel insecure and unhappy.
Kids of military families have to grow up missing their mom or dad. This creates a vacant place in their psyche and makes them feel unwanted. Animal Assisted Therapy can come to the aid of these children.
In US alone there are over 2 million kids whose parent is deployed to the battlefields. Different types of animals are used for cheering up these kids and enhancing their social skills. From dogs and cats to mules, llamas and horses can be used for this humane purpose.
Does Animal Assisted Therapy really work?
Different forms of Animal Assisted Therapy is being used for getting patients out of their state of depression, curing kids suffering from ADHD and bettering the mental condition of individuals going through post traumatic stress disorder. Many doctors are successfully incorporating Animal Assisted Therapy programs into their regular practice.
A number of hospitals have also introduced this type of treatments for their patients. The majority of AAT studies published till date have supported and acknowledged the fact that animals are capable of acting as healers. Maggie O’Haire, of the well known Purdue College, recently conducted a study of the effects of AAT on autistic children. Most children had shown statistically significant improvement proving the healing potential of Animal Assisted Therapy.
What are the benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animals are non-threatening and non-judgmental friends with whom humans share a pure and strong bond. Association with animals naturally help humans in feeling happier and opening up emotionally. Animal Assisted Therapy can improve the fine motor skills, attentiveness and focus.
It also increases self esteem in the patients and teaches them to care for themselves. Those who become reclusive due to injury, illness or depression gain the desire to participate in group health programs with the help of AAT. It reduces the need for using medication, improves social skills and the ability to solve problems.
Animal Assisted Therapy has a high success rate. In this treatment the abilities of animals are used to help patients get a grip over their illnesses. This treatment is used for the overall wellbeing of a person and used even in hospitals.
Therapy with animals is not a new concept. Apart from guided Animal Assisted Therapy programs, people are taking to old animal therapy practices to battle overwhelming mental stress and anxiety in challenging times. Given its mental health benefits, therapies with different animals have growing global appeal.
Cow Cuddling (koe knuffelen) growing in wellness trend
This self-care practice born in Netherlands promises practitioners mental tranquility bringing back the smile on the face. Based on the inherent healing properties of warm man-animal snuggle, practitioners experience a great relief from the stress burden. The practice normally starts by taking a tour to a cow farm and resting against a cow or cuddling and tendering it for a few hours. The warm body temperature of the cow, its slower heartbeat and the mammoth size gives a soothing and secured feel. Giving a backrub to the animal or getting yourself licked by it is also a part of the healing journey.
It is believed cuddling a cow triggers positivity and boosts oxytocin secretion in human that promotes social bonding. The soothing effect that you get from cuddling your pet or a smaller animal gets accentuated in bigger animals. A fulltime pastime born in rural Dutch a decade ago is now a wider part of Dutch movement of bringing people closer to nature and country for better mental health. Cow hugging trend is picking up in the farms of Rotterdam, Switzerland and the US to induce mental stress busting.
Does it hurt the animals?
A 2007 study in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal says, this cuddling is a pleasurable experience for the cows which can be picked up from various non-verbal cues. They tend to enjoy deep relaxation or stretch out with ears falling back when they get massage on their back and neck.
The demand for foster care animals is rising
Enforced restrictions in crisis take a severe toll in human emotional health. Man desperately tries to offload his emotional build-up through some warm interactions without getting judged. Cows are very relaxing in nature and hardly show any aggression. Human beings in general have a soft corner for these animals. Naturally, they become the best choice while sharing the emotional warmth.
You may not find Goat Yoga in prescribed yoga texts but it is very much real. The practice is very simple. A yoga coach leads a yoga session while goats interact with the practitioners. Preferably, these are goat kids else an adult goat climbing on your back or bumping against you will not be a great experience.
The point of Goat Yoga is make you feel more relaxed as goats climb on your back and give a light massage with their light hooves. The friendliness of these cute little creatures makes yoga an enjoyable experience without needing any forceful motivation.
Origin of goat yoga
Lainey Morse in 2016 started this practice in her Oregan farm originally which was dubbed as a ‘Goat Happy Hour’. People visited her farm to spend time with animals which helped them in reducing their stress, depression and other negative emotions. Finally, Lainey conceived the idea of mixing yoga sessions with interactions with goats which grew as another popular animal therapy. Lainey allows eight goats aged few weeks to 2 years old in a 30-minute yoga session.
Goats do not really need to bond with humans. They can reach out to any stranger in the farm spontaneously eager to nuzzle him/her and be a pet. This is what that attracts yoga practitioners who enjoy a great relaxing effect while carrying on with their regular yoga sessions for mind-body fitness.
People can choose various animals for self-care and healing depending on the objective of therapy. Given the alarming rise in mental stress and people longing to get connected with nature, regular day outs with cute animals would be a regular self-care norm. Just like goat yoga, performing yoga, jogging, running or other physical activities in natural settings surrounded by harmless creature like ponies, goats, pups, cows, rabbits, etc. could be a great outdoor experience for wellness enhancement.