play to empowerment

Animal Assisted Therapy

Oscer the hedgehog playing in a tubeWhat is animal assisted therapy?

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that partners with animals for therapeutic purposes. “The goal of AAT is to improve a person’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning” (Marcus DA, April 2013 & American Humane Association). A variety of animals may be incorporated into animal assisted therapy, horses, cats, dogs, and a variety of small animals to name a few.

oscer the hedgehog bathingWhy animal assisted therapy?

Animals can help to create an unconditional, nonjudgmental environment (less threatening environment) that increases the rapport between therapist and client. This helps the client to move and go deeper into processing.

During animal assisted therapy:

Initially the client, or client’s parent(s), will meet with the therapist to assess client’s needs. The client will then be introduced to the animal(s) and begin. Through a variety of activities, including but not limited to feeding, grooming, verbal communication, a bond will be created between the client and animals and client and therapist. The client then may gain independence and empowerment.

Oscer, the therapeutic hedgehog, and toys.How animal assisted therapy may be beneficial:

Research has shown that some clients that have engaged in animal assisted therapy experienced reduced stress, decreased anxiety, decrease in blood pressure, and/or experienced an improvement in their life outlook. Research has also shown animal assisted therapy to be an effective therapeutic approach when working with children who have been neglected or abused, people experiencing ptsd, ocd, and add/adhd. “Positive social interactions with animals is translated and generalized to positive human interactions.” (Frontier Psychology, 2012)

Child with Oscer the hedgehog and a mazeAnimal Assisted Therapy can help:

  • Increase awareness
  • Be in the present
  • Enhance communication skills
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Enhance social skills
  • Encourage behavioral and emotional growth
  • Decrease anxiety

Why a hedgehog?

Oscer, the therapy hedgehog
Oscer, our first amazing hedgehog. Forever in our hearts. 2013-2016

Hedgehogs are reactive to their surroundings; they are “in the present moment” beings. Our hedgehog is Teal. One can tell when Teal is becoming anxious because her quills go from the laying position to risen and “spikey”. When Teal calms down, the child can see this happening by watching her quills go flat. She teaches the child how to be more aware of their surroundings and how s/he can affect another being. Hedgehogs protect themselves when they perceive they are threatened. In that way, hedgehogs may be beneficial in teaching boundaries and relating to children with aggressive tendencies. Teal seems to feel what the child is feeling on the inside. If she feels that the child is anxious, she will not unquill. In the process of helping Teal relax so to do what s/he is wanting him to do, the child learns themselves how to calm their own bodies.


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