Here at 1 FUR 1, we support programs that help animals and people alike. Two terms we often use for these programs are animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and animal-assisted activities (AAA). Both have been shown to be very beneficial for animals and humans alike, but there is little information out there about the difference between the two, and it’s an important distinction. Let’s look first at AAT.
According to National Institutes of Health, “Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the science that employs the merit of
human-animal interaction to alleviate mental and physical problems of persons with disabilities.” AAT focuses on how animals can fit into a comprehensive therapy program. According to PetPartners.org, AAT programs set goals for the patient and measure progress of the patient. For example, while both AAA and AAT programs might take a dog to a nursing home to cheer up patients, the AAT program will have a licensed therapist working with the elderly patients, ensuring that they retain motor skills by brushing the dog’s fur and tracking the patients’ behavior to see if the presence of the dog lifts their mood.
While, as Morrison (2007) says, “[This] healing modality is not widely integrated into mainstream health care,” therapists who use AAT as a part of their therapy programs have nothing but praise for it. Study after study has shown that the presence of an animal in a therapy program reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and releases happiness and relaxation chemicals in the patient’s brain. Patients find AAT to be more calming than traditional therapy, as therapy animals are gentle and nonjudgmental. This is especially important for people who suffer from social anxiety, autism, or other conditions or traumas that prevent them from fully opening up to a human therapist. From a patient’s perspective, who works with mini horses at Heats and Hooves Therapy said that “I would highly recommend [equine AAT], especially if you have trouble verbally expressing yourself.”
In part 2 of this blog, we will delve into Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) programs. While AAA programs have been shown to be just as beneficial as AAT programs, they are different in some surprising ways. For instance, cats are absent from AAT programs, despite their popularity as pets and well-documented calming presences. Why is this? Find out in Part 2: AAA.