Program

Mar 04, 2015

OVERVIEW

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal directed intervention in which an animal is introduced into the therapy treatment process. AAT is designed to improve adjustment and enhance adaptive functioning as well as to decrease the source of social, emotional, cognitive problems and behavior or psychiatric condition of the patient. An experimental study of adolescent patients in a psychiatry unit found that the intervention resulted in a statistically significant improvement in global functioning, reduction of time spent in hospital, and an increase in regular school attendance.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Children and adolescents ages 11 to 17 years old

Animal-Assisted Therapy is a goal directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is delivered by a health or human service professional with specialized expertise. The AAT intervention consists of weekly therapeutic sessions that last 45 minutes and continue for about 3 months. During each session participants interact with a dog and its handler. AAT intervention covers a wide range of activities with the dog and consists of play activities, physical contact, grooming, cleaning, basic obedience commands, walking, and agility routes.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Stefanini, M.C., Martino, A., Allori, P., Galeotti, F., & Tani, F. (2015). The use of Animal-Assisted Therapy in adolescents with acute mental disorders: A randomized controlled study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 277(20), 1605-11. 

Evaluated population: A total of 34 hospitalized children and adolescents ages 11 to 17 years were randomized into the treatment group (n=17) or the control group (n=17). In the total sample of patients, 20 percent had mood disorders, 9 percent schizophrenia, 6 percent anxiety disorders, and 65 percent eating disorders. The average age was 16 years old, and there were a total of 18 males and 16 females.

Approach: Participants were patients in a psychiatry unit of a pediatric hospital in Florence, Italy. The three inclusion criteria for the sample were an acute psychiatric diagnosis, developmental age, and being able to give informed consent. The participants were randomized using a random number generator. The three outcomes measured were 1) global functioning as measured by the Children Global Assessment Scale, 2) format of hospital care which assessed the clinical severity of each patient, and 3) regular school attendance. Each Animal-Assisted Therapy session was videotaped and these tapes were evaluated and coded by two individual investigators according to a 28-item form. Behavioral and clinical measures were assessed at the beginning of the intervention and at the end of the AAT program after 3 months.

Results: The study showed significant results for treatment group patients in all three outcomes. Patients in the treatment group had a significant increase in global functioning, a significant reduction of time spent in hospital (i.e., a reduction in format of care), and increased regular school attendance compared with the control group. Additionally, three months after the intervention patients in the treatment group showed significant changes in the following areas: 1) social participation and social interaction skills with adults and peers, 2) more active and frequent interactions with their assigned animal, and 3) more affective behaviors toward the animal.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

Stefanini, M.C., Martino, A., Allori, P., Galeotti, F., & Tani, F. (2015). The use of Animal-Assisted Therapy in adolescents with acute mental disorders: A randomized controlled study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 277(20), 1605-11.

Contact Information

Professor Maria Cristina Stefanini

Neurofarba Department, Children’s Health Unit

University of Florence

VialePieraccini, 6-50129

Firenze, Italy

Email: mariacristina.stefanini@unifi.it

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Adolescents (12-17), Males and Females (Co-ed), Clinic/Provider-based, Counseling/Therapy, Anxiety Disorders/Symptoms, Depression/Mood Disorders, Eating Disorders, Social Skills/Life Skills

Program information last updated on 3/4/15

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