Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is: "the use of animals to facilitate positive changes in a broad spectrum of therapeutic settings ... to promote physical, emotional, cognitive, and social improvement for people with special needs" (Intermountain Therapy Animals of Northern Utah). Avalon Hills Eating Disorder Treatment Programs use three forms of AAT: 1) Animals in the Therapeutic community; 2) Equine skills; and (3) Equine Therapy Activities.
Animal-assisted interventions are categorized as either Clinical-level or Contextual Level.
Clinical-Level Interventions are designed to:
- facilitate self-disclosure in clients
- reflect client's mood and/or interactional style
- assist in eliciting "diagnostic" information (e.g., ability to form attachments, interpretation of ambiguous stimuli)
- allow indirect discussion of therapeutic issues
- provide opportunities for teaching/learning, self-soothing skills
- provide opportunities for positive, non-threatening touch
Contextual-Level Interventions (i.e., just having the animals present) are helpful in:
- promoting trust and feelings of safety
- decreasing stress, anxiety and depression
- decreasing self-consciousness
- creating a safer and less stigmatized setting
Animals in the Therapy Room
The use of therapy animals has increased dramatically over the last decade, as has the outcome research for AAT. The results are very encouraging with respect to measurable improvements in both physical and emotional well-being stemming from positive interactions with animals. Avalon Hills uses both cats and dogs in formal therapy settings (individual and group therapy). Clinical- and contextual-level interventions (see above) apply to the use of animals in the therapy room.