Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an increasingly popular option that offers a fun and furry alternative to traditional therapy. For those who have an affinity for animals or those who feel apprehensive about attending therapy for the first time, the presence of a trained therapy animal can provide enormous benefits.
It can help us naturally regulate our emotions. Humans have an innate tendency to pay attention to other living things, and focusing on a relaxed animal brings our attention to the present moment. This in-turn allows us to momentarily overcome the exhausting impact of our limiting beliefs, and can instead elicit feelings of calm, happiness, and even love!
• Animals can be excellent teachers. They can help us reduce the impact of our dysfunctional needs by learning to behave in ways that convey calm and confidence. Working with an animal may even help you become more aware of your body language, and assist you in developing new habits that lead to healthier relationships and self-confidence.
Children may especially benefit from the presence of an animal in therapy. In particular, children who struggle with inattention, anxiety, or attachment problems. This additional therapeutic element helps children address their dysfunctional needs and behave in ways that convey calm, confidence, and empathy.
For individuals who have a hard time connecting, animals can provide a safe, nonjudgmental source of attachment. Dogs, for example, tend to demonstrate unconditional love which can work wonders on limiting beliefs such as “I’m not good enough.”
Animal Assisted Therapy can be especially beneficial in overcoming trauma. Through unconditional love, the calming effects animals have on our nervous systems, and a nonjudgmental being who may be easier to connect with, this trifecta is how animals can make trauma work a more comfortable and gentle process. This may be something as simple as the comfort of having a dog cuddled up beside you while you reprocess.
Finally, animals can be an effective tool for individuals who dissociate. If you experience moments of “checking out” while processing emotionally painful events, animals can help you stay present simply by allowing you to connect with them in dissociative moments. For example, it may be effective to simply pet a dog, run your fingers through its fur, or gently stroke its soft ears while reprocessing difficult memories.