I currently work with individuals struggling with chronic mental health issues and medical conditions with my primary role being to help patients access outpatient treatment options. I can personally attest that across generations- there continues to be a stigma associated with chronic conditions and seeking out treatment. I would argue that roughly 25-50% of my caseload is either unwilling to seek treatment for their medical or mental health issues or highly apprehensive about it.
My exploration thus far into Animal Assisted Therapy has shown the effectiveness of its methods in helping to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and improve an individual’s overall mood. From children to seniors- research is showing the benefits animals can have on the lives of individuals struggling with chronic medical and/or mental health issues. An article written by Tori Rodriguez in Psychiatry Advisor provides a wide array of references regarding how animal assisted therapy has psychological benefits for a variety of age groups.
I was curious if AAT has also helped to improved overall treatment outcomes for patients. Recent research suggests that the use of animal assisted therapy independently or in conjunction with other traditional medical and behavioral health treatment approaches is highly effective amongst all generations.
Additionally, I located a recent study conducted in 2016 by Atherton, Dunbar, & Baker which suggested the following:
“There is strong evidence for the benefits of adding complementary interventions to enhance the outcomes of standard treatment approaches. Integrating AAT within standard mindfulness-based therapist has the potential to reduce anxiety symptoms, increase acceptability and engagement in the therapy process, and increase the transferability of mindfulness skills post treatment completion. For example, integrating A may increase client’s willingness to engage in therapeutic strategies they normally would not, thus increasing participation in treatment.”
With significantly low risks involved – using Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a complementary treatment method may be able to help improve patient engagement and outcomes overall. AAT is an approach that all medical and mental health should explore further with patients who are challenging to engage or have a history of treatment non-compliance.